Shawn Maxwell – J Town Suite (Cora Street Records)

Saxophonist Shawn Maxwell has recently released an album dedicated to his childhood home, Joliet, Illinois. Throughout J Town Suite’s nine songs, we’re given one man’s perspective on a few of the places that left an imprint on his life, from the notorious prison(s) and dilapidated bridges to the local bars and the wacky hot dog stand that help to give Joliet its character. Joliet being Joliet, though, there’s both joyful childhood reminiscence and the creepy and ominous tones of Joliet being a rust belt town, through and through. Maxwell has assembled an astonishing working band these days, and that band is featured here: Collin Clauson on keys, Michael Barton on bass and Greg Essig on drums, with Maxwell playing alto and soprano saxes, as well as flute. That band can tackle songs with complicated harmonies and meter changes with ease, and they’ve clearly inspired Maxwell to make some challenging music. “Steelmen March” starts the festivities off with a staccato melody that manages to remind me of John Zorn’s Masada and early 70’s Frank Zappa. “Fries or Rings in the Back,” “In the Shadow of Statesville” and “Ghost Mall on Jefferson” all have an eerie vibe that would work well in a neo-futurist Crime Noir movie. “Jerry” is the most accessible song on J Town Suite, and both Clauson and Maxwell turn in excellent solos on it. For jazz fans that like fusion and more cerebral modern jazz, J Town Suite will be a treat

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