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Review: Shawn Maxwell's "Expectation and Experience"

By Hrayr Attarian

Shawn Maxwell alto saxophone, soprano saxophone, clarinet

Stephen Lynerd vibraphone

Marielle de Rocca Serra violin

Michael Barton bass

Phil Beale drums

Collin Clauson keyboards

Tim Seisser bass

Zvonimir Tot guitar & virtual strings arrangement

Marc Piane bass

Lucas Gillan drums

Alex Beltran tenor saxophone

Kalyan Pathak tabla & drum set

Brenda Earle Stokes piano

Paul Abella cajon & tambourine

Howard Levy harmonica

Steven Hashimoto bass

Greg Essig drums

Mark Nelson programming & keyboards

John Stafford II voice

Keri Johnsrud voice

Craig Elliot guitar

Inspired by Black Lives Matter protests.

Ernie Adams drums

Chad McCullough trumpet

William Kurk keyboards

Tom Sharpe drums

Gina DeGregorio marimba

Matt Nelson keyboards

Jeremiah Hunt bass

Greg Artry drums

Stacy McMichael bass

Ever the versatile innovator, saxophonist and composer Shaw Maxwell did not let the unprecedented difficulties of 2020 silence him. He drew inspiration from the momentous events both nationally and globally and penned seventeen, brief yet poignant, originals. He recorded most of the tracks remotely with various musicians, each in their own home. The result is the socially aware and captivating Expectation and Experience.

The music superbly reflects the various moods majority of people experienced during this fateful year. From losing loved ones to the isolation and from the economic burden to the anger over injustices are all expressed here. For instance Maxwell’s homage to a late friend Evon House Thompson, “Quiet House” is a sublime elegy. Maxwell’s melancholic saxophone floats over guitarist Zvonimir Tot’s virtual strings arrangements and lyrical guitar. Bassist Marc Piane and drummer Lucas Gillan maintain a solemn and dynamic cadence. Tot and Maxwell alternate turns in the spotlight eloquently embellishing the main theme.

“Breathe” about George Floyd’s murder is filled with sorrow and anger. Pianist Brenda Earle Stokes sets the somber mood with her cascading keys. Maxwell joins with acerbic lines that are deftly interwoven within the piano’s dramatic chords. The tune concludes wistfully and on a spiritual note. Immediately following it is Maxwell’s call for action over environmental disasters. “A Change of Climate” is a short, barely over a minute, yet memorable duet with percussionist Paul Abella. The two musicians quickly construct a tense ambience filled with Maxwell’s fiery sax and Abella’s hypnotic, muscular beats.

Another woodwind/percussion dialogue is “Feeling Remote”. Kalyan Pathak alternates between eastern instruments and a western drum kit. Maxwell blows forlorn phrases that meander within this delightfully unusual rhythmic framework. Another piece inspired directly by the effects of COVID19 is “Lockdown”. Here Maxwell, on clarinet, carries a crisp and clever “conversation”with marimba player Gina DeGregorio. DeGregorio’s resonant mallets build a crystalline and eerie atmosphere around Maxwell’s agile performance that is peppered with nostalgia. The angular repartee ends with dark whimsy.

Maxwell has made his tenth release as a leader as unique as his previous work and even more relevant. It showcases his mature artistry and stimulating unconventionality. His brilliant choice of like-minded collaborators makes this album even more remarkable. Overall Expectation and Experience is a fitting and fine musical summary of 2020.


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