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Shawn Maxwell: Shawn Maxwell's Alliance

Hrayr Attarian By

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Woodwind player and composer Shawn Maxwell's Shawn Maxwell's Alliance on the Chicago Sessions label is a carefully orchestrated suite with a subtle yet distinct dramatic sense. Although the description in the liner notes makes mention of a group of friends experimenting with new styles and sounds the disc is not a blowing date nor it is meant to be one.

The fantastical "Iynes Crayons" opens with a stately, almost baroque theatricality as French horn players Rachel Maxwell and {[Meghan Fulton}} blow mellow, elegiac phrases over bassists Stacy McMichael and Marc Piane's reverberating strings. Guitarist Mitch Corso's ethereal sonic swells add to the dark, fairy tale like ambience particularly as they stretches over drummer Paul Townsend's galloping sticks. Maxwell's own resonant flute plays the theme in unison with singer Keri Johnsrud's haunting wordless vocalise ushering in a Jethro Tull-esque mood. Corso's bluesy blistering improvisation is raw yet cerebral and Maxwell's rollicking solo is complex, innovative while remaining accessible.

The record is also imbued with poetry as the intriguing four-way conversation on "From Parts Unknown" demonstrates. Soprano saxophonist Chris Greene and Maxwell trade spontaneous melodic lines that emerge from the overlapping shimmering textures that the ensemble weaves. Elsewhere the edgy "Quartan" is a brief and intense abstract tune with saxophones' atonal and eerie screech rising over darkly shimmering harmonies.

Hints of Levantine mystique appear on such pieces as "Shadowbox" and "Perpetual Day One." The first opens with Maxwell's clarinet's exuberant tone, albeit tinged with a touch of melancholy. His mellifluous duet with Greene evolves over percussionist Stephen Lynerd's mid eastern beats. On the latter Maxwell's saxophone floats over dancing rhythms that Lynerd's cool mallet strikes carefully and intriguingly accentuate with a magical flourish.

Maxwell and his "Alliance" can also get down and dirty with a heavy funk infused groove like on the soulful "Pistols N' Tulips." The two bassists take turns extemporizing. As one opens with a tight, inventive agile pizzicato the other closes with a passionate and memorable con arco with the band's rough-hewn lyricism and laid back swagger in support.

Maxwell's genre mixing not only does not make the record sound disjointed, but his signature; repetitive motifs enhance its conceptual unity. The exquisite balance of orchestration and individual freedom of expression together with Maxwell's compositional ingenuity and deft leadership make the album a singular work of true musical fusion.

Track Listing: Fun Five Funk; Lynes Crayons; EGOT; From Parts Unknown; Song For Something Else; Plaza; Waiting Food; Pistols N' Tulips; Bitty Bitty Beep; Quartan; Radio Hit Number Four; Here's Your Swing Tune; Little Ninja Groove; Perpetual Day One; Looking For Alex; Full Count; Shadowbox; You Alright? I Learned It By Watching You.

Personnel: Shawn Maxwell: alto saxophone, tenor saxophone, flute, clarinet; Chris Greene: soprano saxophone; Keri Johnsrud: voice; Stephen Lynerd: vibraphone, percussion; Mitch Corso:guitar; Rachel Maxwell: french horn; Meghan Fulton: french horn; Stacy McMichael: bass; Marc Piane: bass; Paul Townsend: drums.

Title: Shawn Maxwell's Alliance | Year Released: 2014 | Record Label: Chicago Session LTD.


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