The Thompson Fields - Midwest

RootsWorld: Home Page Link RootsWorld: Home Page Link

Maria Schneider Orchestra
The Thompson Fields
ArtistShare (

Mathias Eick

A serious orchestral project is a keen reminder of how little public support the U.S. affords for large jazz ensembles on the order of the French Orchestre National de Jazz, the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra, or comparable configurations in Germany. Unimaginable here are grand projects such as Cuban pianist-composer Omar Sosa's Ceremony (recorded with Hamburg's NDR Big Band) or New York trombonist-composer Marshall Gilkes' Köln (with Cologne's WDR Big Band).

Characteristic of European support for noted world jazz artists, among Maria Schneider's many collaborations, she has been a guest conductor with the NDR Big Band and ensembles across the continent. European audiences' deep appreciation of jazz may help to explain Schneider's emphatic advocacy for fan-funded efforts, in her case manifest in the support she has garnered for her expansive vision via ArtistShare, whose crowd-sourced titles include many prize-winning recordings the market-worshipping majors never would have seen fit to underwrite.

Schneider formed her own ensemble in New York in the early 1990s, orchestrating a distinctive big-band vision rooted in years of woodshedding with mentors Gil Evans and Bob Brookmeyer. Her cosmopolitan savoir faire notwithstanding, in The Thompson Fields she pays tribute to her pastoral roots in rural southwestern Minnesota, her corner of the broader prairie landscape that has inspired Nebraskan wordsmith Ted Kooser, former U.S. poet laureate. Counting Kooser among her intellectual guides, with The Thompson Fields, Schneider shapes a geographically rooted sense of memory, longing, and nostalgia that mirrors her birdwatcher-naturalist passions, reflected also in the exquisitely illustrated CD booklet. As Schneider observes there, in this rootless era, this recording speaks to “the pure essence of home that I can't easily describe in words.”

Schneider's 18–piece ensemble comprises the talents of artists too numerous to list. The delicate dominion of natural beauty is pervasive, an unseen counterpoint to these distracted times: a pre-dawn farm path stroll on a chill November morning in “Walking by Flashlight”—human communion with (in Kooser's phrasing) “coyote, raccoon, field mouse, sparrow, each watching from darkness this man with the moon on a leash”—conjured through Scott Robinson's alto clarinet; the trombone-fluegelhorn interplay of Marshall Gilkes and Greg Gisbert, reflecting the essential evolutionary symbiosis of “The Monarch and the Milkweed”; and on the title track, where guitarist Lage Lund and pianist Frank Kimbrough lay out the inexpressible essence of (per Schneider) “our families, our parents, those that have gone, family friends, generations, the grand stories, and the beautiful and difficult times as well… [all] quietly present in the land and in the wind.” Of beauty and melancholy there is more here, awaiting attentive and patient audition, from and of a part of the North American continent too often, easily and erroneously, dismissed as “flyover territory.”


Taking singular inspiration from the same sprawling grasslands where a million Scandinavian immigrants dug in during the 19th and early 20th centuries, trumpeter-composer Mathias Eick recalls his unexpected insight during a demanding U.S.-Canadian tour: “We'd started on the West Coast and were driving long distances every day. I was beginning to get very homesick. Then we reached… the rural Midwest and I suddenly had the strange feeling that I was home. It occurred to me that the early settlers must have felt this way, when they looked at the rich soil of the plains and saw that this was wonderful land for farming. Parts of the Midwest remind me strongly of parts of Norway—including the southeast of Norway where I grew up.”

For Midwest, his third release as a leader, Eick recruited ECM stalwarts Jon Balke (piano), Gjermund Larsen (whose violin lends a refined Nordic folk inflection to the project), Mats Eilertsen (double bass), and Helge Norbakken (percussion) to this Oslo studio recording. Midwest envisions the emigrants' rural origins (“Hem”), their transatlantic voyage (“At Sea”), their sense of dislocation (“Lost”), and the new homeland's seasonal extremes (“March,” “November”), while also paying tribute to a “Fargo” and “Dakota” of the imagination. Eick's distinctive solos lend the session its unifying character, while allowing his collaborators ample range to develop their own strands in a finely woven quintet outing. Paradoxically or not, Eick's metaphysical response to encountering home so far away from his territorial origins resonates with the selfsame spirit of Schneider's reflection upon her own presence in the fleeting human sojourn across a singular landscape that has inspired in each a palpable sense of connectedness with the subtle natural beauty of place, a rootedness that defies easy analysis or depiction. - Michael Stone

Looking for More Information?


return to rootsworld

© 2015 RootsWorld. No reproduction of any part of this page or its associated files is permitted without express written permission.


cd cover

cd cover

Share on Facebook


RootsWorld depends on your support.
Contribute in any amount
and get our weekly e-newsletter.