David Maxwell
Maximum Blues Piano
Tone-Cool 1160
Sideman par excellence David Maxwell steps out in front for the first time with a breathtaking range and virtuosity. Ten of the 11 cuts on Maximum Blues Piano are instrumentals, but even if you generally don't care for music without vocals, you won't miss them when you hear Maxwell's piano talking to you. Featuring a cadre of Boston-area blues cats, including guitarist Ronnie Earl, bassist Marty Ballou, drummer Marty Richards (Duke Robillard's rhythm section) and sax man Kaz Kazanoff, this album is as diverse as it is entertaining.

Maxwell takes you right to the heart of New Orleans with "Breakdown on the Bayou," a serious gumbo of clean, fancy piano work with the drums and horns just right. Some pieces are surprisingly jazzy, like the languid "Down at P.J.'s Place" and the uptempo gospelish "Sister Laura Lee," which boasts some nice guitar work from Duke Levine. If you're looking for the deep blues, there's a nice little tribute to Otis Spann at the beginning of the midnight-blue "Deep Into It."

Of the two non-originals, Meade Lux Lewis' "Honky Tonk Train" is kind of an "Orange Blossom Special" for pianists, a choo-choo, boogie-woogie show piece, and Maxwell does an amazing job. The only less than thrilling cut is the poppish "Manhattan Max," which is not just lighthearted but too lightweight for the company it's keeping.

Maxwell is a huge talent, and his arrangements show a lot of taste and experience. There's something for everyone on this album, and it'll probably make quite an impression on jazz fans as well as a blues audience. This one's another feather in the cap of the New England-based Tone-Cool label.

-- Jennifer Zogott

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Boulder, CO, USA.