Considering that we’re still about eight years away from the 200th anniversary of Franz Schubert’s late in life song cycle Winterreise, it seems clear that no special anniversary or commemoration sparked jazz collective Madre Vaca’s interest in adapting this grand musical narrative – based on 24 poems by German poet Wilhelm Muller – to an inventive and eclectic jazz setting. The fascinating concept may have simply grown out of the mission statement atop the ever-evolving ensemble’s website: Music for your brain.
You don’t really need to know anything about Muller’s original story – a rejected man who left his beloved’s home to wander away in the middle of a winter’s night – to appreciate the way the powerhouse eight-piece ensemble re-imagine’s Schubert’s original melodies and rhythms. But to get a better idea of just how unique this contemporary re-imagining is, it’s a good idea to look up any recent traditional classical piano vocal interpretation for comparison.
Madre Vaca creates a gently grounding reference point to the original works via the short and sweet piano vocal duet “The Sun Dogs.” The rest of the set rolls like a deep spirited dive into a multitude of jazz related styles, from the swinging, percussive New Orleans romp “Good Night” and the boisterous, brassy bebop of “The Weathervane” to the sensual, horn-fired Latin swing of “Loneliness” and “The Stormy Morning” and the wildly mood swinging, highly improvisational “The Crow,” which features dynamic freewheeling solo spotlights for guitarist Jarrett Carter, saxophonist Juan Rollan and pianist Jonah Pierre.
Schubert might boogie and snap his fingers in his resting place if he heard the wild and frequently exotic rhythms created by Mike Perez (bass), Benjamin Shorstein (drums) and Milan Algood (percussion) – and the nonstop sizzle of the brass arrangements featuring Rollan, Steve Strawley (trumpet) and Lance Reed (trombone).