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Maxwell's House is a hard-swinging, deep in the pocket release by Chicago- based alto saxophonist Shawn Maxwell. The maturity displayed by all four musicians on the album is both refreshing and exciting. Instead of building energy and interest with long-streams of notes, Maxwell and pianist Matt Nelson favor shorter lines, longer-held notes and a strong focus on tone to draw in their audience. There is a solid sense of groove and swing across the quartet and the laid-back nature of the soloists sets the focus on tone, something that these players have in spades.
All of the tunes on Maxwell's House were written by the young saxophonist, with the exception of "If Only," which was co-written by Nelson and Matt Nischan. Though the tunes tend to stick closely to the medium tempo range, the quartet is able to create stimulating music through the application of various grooves, feels and time signatures. One of the albums highlights is the ballad "Five." Set in a slow, 5/4, time signature, the quartet explores myriad possibilities of the odd time feel. Branching out from the standard 3+2 or 2+3 groupings, which 5/4 often implies at faster tempos, Maxwell and company do their best to disguise the odd time feel, while at the same time bringing out nuances that are often unexplored at faster tempos.
As soloists, all four musicians bring a unique approach to the modern jazz vernacular of the album's different grooves and harmonies. Of note is Nelson, who is never less than stellar throughout. His solo on the opening title track is one of the album's highlights; weaving his way through bop, West- Coast cool and New York modern, Nelson's effective use of space and his instrument's range brings to mind the work of some of the piano's finest performers, including Bill Evans, Lennie Tristano and Wynton Kelly .
Not to be outdone, Maxwell is in fine form across the board. Drawing inspiration from the great alto saxophonist Kenny Garrett, Maxwell's tone and sense of time are captivating. Tending to focus on melody rather than chops or complex harmonic ideas, his lines mix creativity with intellect in a manner that is both engaging and intellectually challenging.
Maxwell's House is a solid release by this Windy City quartet. Strong compositions, a deep sense of time feel and an emphasis on melody all come together to produce and album that would be expected from musicians twice their age, an accomplishment that should create pride in the performers and enjoyment in their audience.
Track Listing: Maxwell's House; Shuffled; Five; Jathor; Ava; If Only; Welcome; Sector
7-G; Different Colors of Cool; Dangerous Curve.
Personnel: Shawn Maxwell: alto saxophone; Matt Nelson: piano; Kevin Martinez:
double-bass; Brandon Dickert: drums.
Years ago now--in Rhodesia--listening to Voice of America with Willis Conover I heard Bunk Johnson play When The Saints Go Marching In, and Billie Holiday sing Don't Explain. I knew then there was no other life for me than jazz.