FAME Review: David Maxwell / Otis Spann - Conversations in Blue
David Maxwell / Otis Spann - Conversations in Blue

Conversations in Blue

David Maxwell / Otis Spann

Vizztone Records

Available from Circumstantial.

A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by Mark S. Tucker

Otis Spann was a highly influential pianist often thought of as the Chicago blues keyboardist, a gent who combined barrelhouse, stride, boogie-woogie, and other styles to achieve a complicated high-speed mode of expression that gained him the ear of giants in the land: Eric Clapton, Peter Green, Buddy Guy, Howlin' Wolf, Big Mama Thornton, all of whom, and more, he recorded and/or played with. The man started big, a member of Muddy Waters band, and only got larger and larger. David Maxwell has been so enamored of Spann's work that he decided to do an unusual thing: overdub himself on some old Spann tracks. Maxwell, however, possesses a leonine pair of hands, has sat in with many famed bluesmen, holds the respect of critics and listeners alike, and even sat down and played with his idol once back in the 60s, so, if anyone should attempt what many would consider to blasphemy, it's him.

The result is dizzying and sparkling simultaneously. Maxwell tickles the ivories on a number of tracks on his own, then there's one solo by Spann, and finally 4 cuts of dubbed dueting. If you, dear listener, have even the slightest doubt that this might be sacrilegious, then lay an ear to what's achieved on the second track, Otis in the Dark, and become a believer. The interplay between Spann, who died in 1970 at the way-too-tender age of 40, and Maxwell is jaw-dropping, completely telepathic to the late composer-player's spirit and vivacities. William Faulkner once opined that a writer might have to "rob his mother" to be able to live and create within a culture not particularly noted for its kindness to artists, simultaneously noting that the famous Ode to a Grecian Urn is still 'worth any number of old ladies' thusly treated. Whatever else may be said of the legendary Faulkner's talents and deficits, his many great virtues and blackly satirical comments, he was referring, of course, to the fact that whatever it takes to create great art must be done, and that's the case here.

Natalie Cole executed the same maneuver with her deceased father Nat King Cole's golden work, and few would criticize that effort. Even more so here because the chemistry of this pair, living and dead, is authentic and bold, resulting in the sort of production we can only hope will occur more frequently in the future. You'll swear both musicians were sitting across from one another, going to town with gusto and inspiration, élan and deep respect for each other's creativity. That sense of absolute rapport continues throughout the CD, no matter whether one, the other, or both are banging away in rapture at their instruments. And, hey, someone please make sure Harry Shearer knows of this release. He's one of the foremost connoisseurs of this music and will positively pass out as he catches what's going on in these grooves. More, o ye progheads, if you want to see where Keith Emerson copped some of his great early-music licks, catch track 10, Get Your Hands out of my Pockets. The ELP hetman was listening to a lot more than olden hoedown music, and, like Shearer, should he glom this disc, there'll be at least one cat hootin' 'n hollerin' in Jolly Ol'.

Track List:

  • Marie
  • Otis in the Dark
  • Transition #1
  • Off the Cuff
  • Walking the Blues
  • Trasition #2
  • Cow Cow Boogie
  • David in the Dark
  • Otis' Great Northern Stomp
  • Get Your Hands out of my Pockets
  • Twisted Tendons
  • Walk the Walk
  • Spann and Bob
  • Transition #3
  • Take Me on Home
  • Thank You, Otis
Promo copy, no composition credits given.
Doesn't matter, just listen.

Edited by: David N. Pyles

Copyright 2011, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.
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