For those outside of Chicago, know this: Shawn Maxwell follows the long lineage of Windy City reed players and composers with a big, brawny sound and thought-provoking art. On Expectation & Experience, Maxwell delivers 17 slices of musical exploration that came to him during the pandemic. He includes a family of 29 players on this recording, each laying down their parts alone and shipping them off to Maxwell, COVID safe. This is a truly personal, absolutely beautiful piece of pandemic art that goes down easy to soothe and uplift the soul. Take, for instance, the opening number, “Expectation.” Clocking in at just 1:39 minutes, it’s a simple duet between Maxwell on alto and Stephen Lynerd on vibraphone. It’s a shimmery salute to a better time, with a wisp of “In A Sentimental Mood” before turning off into directions unbound. “Quiet House” floats as a melancholy blues in honor of a friend who died during the pandemic, switching between 3/4 and 4/4 time with Zvonimir Tot delivering beautiful guitar work and a tasty virtual string arrangement. On “The Great Divide,” Maxwell and tenor saxophonist Alex Beltran poke the elephants and the donkeys in the room with an ode to the political banter of a presidential election. If only our elected officials could make such harmonious music. The album truly sounds like a travelogue of Maxwell and friends speaking for all of us. They follow the challenges of our quarantined lives with songs like “Feeling Remote,” “Lockdown” and “Every Day Is Monday” to outrage at what he was seen on television with songs like “Breathe” (which is a stunning beauty), “The New Abnormal” and “No Peace Without Justice.” Take, for instance, the song “Alternative Facts,” a mischievous number with Maxwell on saxophone, Howard Levy on harmonica, Steven Hashimoto on bass and Greg Essig on drums. It’s loaded with humor, angst, pathos and toss-your-hands-in-the-air surrender. The set concludes with “Experience,” another brief, beautiful duet with Stacy McMichael providing arco bass against the pleading bleat of Maxwell’s saxophone. It must be said that you can listen to this recording without notes or titles and thoroughly enjoy the ride. But what makes Expectation & Experience special is knowing the song titles, seeing what Maxwell was trying to do and hearing that he indeed nails it each and every time.

Frank Alkyer