Do television broadcasts still contain those little news story teases followed by the promise, “Story at eleven”? I don’t watch television much anymore, so I wonder. But that phrase certainly still conjures up those images, and that serious tone, for those stories were all about rather serious, scary subjects, and, if I recall correctly, often contained warnings. So that was going through my head as I put on Story At Eleven, the new album from saxophonist and composer Shawn Maxwell. This album is different from his previous releases, in that it contains four long tracks, all connected thematically. All four are original compositions. Joining Shawn Maxwell on this release are Collin Clauson on organ, Michael Barton on electric bass, and Greg Essig on drums. The album was produced by Shawn Maxwell and Nick Eipers.
The album opens with “Appointment With…,” which kind of eases in, the first moments like a curtain being opened to reveal a new day, with the hope and magic of that moment. And then as we take a look, there is something uneasy about what we view, as if the daylight were a trick, and we are in some sort of twilight. Expectations are set aside, and we find ourselves at the beginning of a journey. There seems to be just one path to travel upon, sort of like in a dream where we feel there are no choices, and whether we know or not where we are heading, we must go. That repeated them indicates as much. Interestingly, just as the music is getting more intense and busier, starting to rush toward some sort of possible confrontation, there is a pause, a breath, a silence, almost like closing one’s eyes to avoid facing whatever it is. And it works, for when the music begins again, we are in a calmer state. Things then begin to build again, but there is not that same sort of apprehension, that same worry. And I love the work on drums here. As things then mellow a bit once again, the saxophone works as a soothing agent for a time, before leading us into more interesting territory. And then there is another pause, another breath, and the track returns us to that initial theme. It is as if we cannot escape that path. We are going to keep that appointment referred to in the tune’s title, one way or another.

“Internal Rift” begins with drums, but somewhat softly, as if at a distance. It’s not a beat that invites us to dance or sway, but a beat that seems to announce something, to call attention to a presence. The bass soon adds its voice, and we get the sense of something somber. When the organ is added, that somber sense continues. It has a strange, almost spiritual element too, the organ reminding me vaguely of church. It isn’t until Shawn Maxwell comes in on saxophone that the music begins to feel closer to us, and more inviting, though all the other elements remain in place. And then things change, and open up into a wider, brighter place. Or perhaps we are just now within the sound rather than looking on, and have adjusted our perspective, and we get some nice work on organ. Approximately halfway through the track, there is some hesitation. Perhaps we are unsure just how to proceed, and so we take short, tentative steps. And then, though we may still be unsure, we move more quickly forward, and things get gloriously wild. The track features some excellent work on saxophone and some intriguing use of percussion.

“Near Surrender” begins in a somewhat relaxed space. There is something tentative, yet pretty in the playing. Cautiously optimistic, perhaps. And interestingly, there is a lead on bass before long, that instrument seeming to suggest that things are going to be all right, for, though it emerges from the main theme, it feels able to step apart from it, if briefly. And then things take a sudden, unexpected turn, the saxophone leading the way, offering exclamations or interjections, before returning to that mellower place. Though now the saxophone is quicker to raise its voice, as if finding a way to create a new path and eager to lead us along it. There is an excitement in the playing. And soon there is a drum solo, one that is allowed to take its time to develop, which is great, for the power that emerges is felt much more strongly. The track returns to its main them at the end.

The album concludes with “Answer & Arrival.” Here the saxophone seems ready from the start to reach a more cheerful place, and feels more certain that it is possible. Sure, we’ll need some reassurance along the way, and the saxophone delivers it, along with the organ, in an early section. And then the saxophone freely expresses an excitement, even a joy, as the journey now seems something that we have a say in. We can alter the path, and therefore perhaps the outcome. At least, that feels to be the promise here. And yet, there is no rush forward. No need, now that we feel better about the journey itself. Things are lighter. And then when the goal is in sight, there is that final joyous push forward.

CD Track List

Appointment With…
Internal Rift
Near Surrender
Answer & Arrival
Story At Eleven was released on March 24, 2023.

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