Maria Baptist Orchestra

Here & Now 2

German pianist Maria Baptist isn’t so well-known in the States, which seems like something of an injustice. During the past few years, she has put out a variety of distinct and subtly appealing albums—one with a big band (Here & Now), one with a trio (Poems Without Words) and a solo record (Resonance), on which her rhapsodic, free-flowing piano style evokes Bill Evans and Keith Jarrett. Now, the 48-year-old bandleader has released a follow-up to Here & Now that should cause listeners’ ears to perk up in the U.S.

The spine of the record, which includes a 16-musician ensemble, is the four-part “Midnight Suite,” a moody, episodic series that sounds as if it could soundtrack a noir film. Baptist is a creative arranger and makes good use of a wide array of instruments. In the suite’s first portion, brassy voicings, along with a breathy baritone saxophone solo by Nik Leistle, recall Gil Evans’ work on the Birth Of The Cool sessions. And a bass clarinet in the second part brings to mind Gunther Schuller’s classically inflected third-stream work. Other modernist flourishes, particularly on the last track, “Sign Of The Zodiac,” including flashy and dramatic horn blasts, recall Stan Kenton.

But the main influence here is the great bandleader Maria Schneider, with whom Baptist studied composition at The New School in Manhattan. Schneider’s music is characterized by its expansiveness, and that quality also can be applied to Baptist’s orchestral work. Fortunately, though, Baptist’s music stands on its own as her rhythm section keeps things loose and lets the music breathe.