After a series of well-received mainstream recordings, Chicago-based alto saxophonist Shawn Maxwell moved into a “taking more chances” mode with Shawn Maxwell’s New Tomorrow (OA2 Records, 2016). Much of the sound there fell into the exploratory, even avant-garde area. He delves further into that territory with Music In My Mind.
With albums titled Originals (Self Produced, 2006) and Originals II (Self Produced, 2008) opening up his recorded resume, it’s no stretch to say that Maxwell’s focus is zeroed in on composition. His writing is always – but even more so here – highly original and compellingly listenable. His music can be trippy (to use what might seem an outdated term; but Neil Tessler used it in the liner notes, and it seems to fit, especially on the opener, “Our Princess Is In Anther Castle”); and it can be majestic (“Herding Happiness); and it can surely groove (“He Gone”). It adds up to a stylistic mix of ingredients with a bigger, badder sum than you might expect.
The personnel employed are a mix, too: three different trumpeters contributing on different tunes; two different bassists, mixing acoustic and electric, and slip in the vibraphone and an extra percussionist, and Maxwell adds flute and clarinet, also. All of which could be a recipe for a mess, but Maxwell’s focus of vision prevents that.
Vocalist Dee Alexander adds wordless vocals on three tunes. It’s an inspired addition to the sound, the human voice taking the part of an extra horn on “Our Princess Is In Another Castle,” with its confoundingly entrancing mood and tempo shifts, beginning brightly, with a sunny urgency, then switching to a dark, ominous, abstract, prowling vibe that moves back into a hard-driving post bop mode.
Maxwell proves himself – once again, and even more so with Music In My Mind – a highly original songsmith who boasts the ability to bring together a group of top rate musicians to craft a distinctively modern jazz sound, start to finish.