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New kid on the block

Shawn Maxwell - Originals
4 stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: Dec. 1, 2006
Shawn Maxwell

Review by Brad Walseth

One of the biggest complaints I hear registered against the state of jazz today is that however great the standards were/are - some people are just plain tired of hearing them. Whatever the innovations of instrumentation and arrangement, yet another version of "Invitation" or "Green Dolphin Street" send some folk scurrying out the door. "Where are the new writers?" they ask. Fortunately there are young up-and-coming writers who are writing new material that can stand on its own against the great songwriters of the past, and I recently had the pleasure of discovering one by the name of Shawn Maxwell - whose new CD entitled Originals gives me hope that the future of jazz will not always be looking to the past with regret and longing.

Maxwell is an energetic yet subtle reedman with a number of years experience in various settings under his belt. He moves fluidly between alto and tenor saxes as well as clarinet and flute showing a hard earned command of the intricacies of each instrument. His solos are exciting and well-conceived, while his band is talented and there seems to exist a great deal of nice chemistry between sparkling pianist Jakub Rojek, solid, driving bassist Mike Daly and drummer Glen Schneider (who is given ample opportunity to rattle, brush and boom). The band is joined by guitarist Ryan Trommer on one track, while trombonist Johanna Mahmud adds some delicious interplay with Maxwell on two songs (the marvelous "Iynes Crayons" and "No One Bossa").

As good as the band and Maxwell are, it would mean little if the songs themself weren't so good. From the winding changes of the opener "Dangerous Curve" through the impressive jam-out of "The Sixth" to the fiery "King Bill" to the time-warped boogie-woogie of "Lunch-Box" that closes the recording, "Originals'" alternately burns and cools in eminently listenable fashion. Moving through nods to be-bop, cool jazz, blues ("Sister Red"), standard jazz, experimental (it seems Maxwell may have more than a passing familiarity with Bartok and Stravinsky), dixieland ("Clayton's Carnival" features Maxwell's clarinet), world music (the flute, bass and drum driven "Glamasue") the charts are both respectful to tradition, while breaking the rules and presenting a new positive and forward-thinking direction that is "original" in its approach. And graced by Jeff Thompson's clean and warm recording and mix, the band sounds intimate, relaxed and utterly in sync with each other.

While I still enjoy a well done version of "Body and Soul," or "Move," I can also relate to those who call for innovation to move jazz into the future as a viable art form and not just a nostalgia act. Shawn Maxwell's surprising Originals fits the bill, and is like a refreshing burst of fresh air through the jazz world that can often seem closed and stale.

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