Shawn Maxwell has a problem: he composes music that quite often bears strong affinities to the work of Frank Zappa, but he's not all that big on the late FZ. He's only heard some of the maverick's work but doesn't at all mind the comparisons, though he's neither channeled nor emulated the moustachioed giant. Makes sense. After all, Phil Glass, John Adams, Mike Nyman, Steve Reich, and others have very marked similarities in their work, yet no one burdens them with charges of pilferage and such (or do they? I've not been reading too many of my peers over in the classicalist realm for about a decade, I'm afraid). Some composers just happen to work in similar territories, and the more you listen here, the more you detect Turning Point, Henry Cow, a bit of Mike Keneally, some Art Bears, and other esotericists with kindred game plans.
Shawn Maxwell's Alliance is a 10-piece (four women, six men) aggregated in a kind of neo-chamber prog-jazz mindset. 18 cuts compose the album, many of them short, some VERY neoclassical (Plaza, for one), others with a generous outside-rock element oft courtesy of Mitch Corso, the guitar player. Everything is embodied in two french horns, two bass guitars, vibes, saxes, flute, clarinet, vocals with no lyrics, and drums. Not exactly the sort of band you're likely to hear in anyone's notion of the mainstream and thus highly attractive to progressive ears.
Maxwell himself plays alto and tenor saxes, flute, and clarinet. He also wrote everything, and these are not simple charts, y'all, as you may have guessed. There's tons of humor everywhere amid what might best be compared to the Canterbury sound (Egg, Caravan, Hatfield & the North, etc…with Penguin Cafe Orchestra to one side) played by cavorting elves, dwarfs, fairies, nymphs, and Puckish hobbits auditioning to play in Queen Titania's New-Mown Grass Symphonia. I also can't help but lay back into a perennial personal referential milestone, The Long Hello's debut LP, because, though that LP is more redolently magisterial with ungodly beauty, Alliance is the same spirit not taking itself too damn seriously…in fact most likely fresh from tippling mead with a wink and a grin. And where does that land us? Back in Zappaland. I'm afraid this dexterous highly intelligent Maxwell lad is never going to escape that…nor should he.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2014, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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