Celebrated within the jazz community as a multi-talented musician, Lisa Maxwell, finally releases a long-awaited album of her own material, dedicated to a special cohort. The lineup reads like a Who's Who of the music world.
"My dear friend Lew Soloff and I talked about recording my arrangements many times over the years," she remembers. "Then he died suddenly and I realized I had to stop thinking about it and get it done!" She pulled together a group of New York's top jazz and studio players, all of whom had a connection with Lew. "Everybody wanted to be on board for this," says bassist Will Lee, "and the result is a gorgeous finished product!"
Shiny! establishes Maxwell's talents as a gifted composer and arranger, showcasing a versatility that reflects her broad musical knowledge and experience. She wrote all of the album's arrangements, and 4 of the tunes are original compositions. They range in styles from boogaloo to straight ahead, to shuffle, to funk, to swing. Shiny! offers something for everyone, including a bonus track remix by renowned electronica/club jazz artist Mocean Worker!
"My writing is heavily influenced by the TV themes of the 1970's," she says. "They're basically the foundation of my cultural identity. Great composers like Lalo Shiffrin, Henry Mancini, Neal Hefti and Earle Hagen underscored my life when I was growing up. I still get a tear in my eye when I listen to themes like The Odd Couple and The Bob Newhart Show. Like those composers, I have very definite ideas, but I write with the soloists in mind and give them freedom within the structure."
She also cites Wayne Shorter and Gil Evans and as being hugely important in her growth. "Getting to watch Gil's band every Monday night [at New York's Sweet Basil] was such a gift. And a lot of those guys are on this album!"
Maxwell connected to jazz at a young age. "I discovered bebop and that was it. I had found my people and my language at jam sessions in South Central L.A. and I'd sneak into as many jazz clubs as I could. I wanted to be like the great arrangers of Hollywood's Golden Age. Even though I often felt like I was the wrong sex, the wrong color, and born at the wrong time, I kept going for it."
She studied with renowned arranger Dick Grove in Studio City, and with Herb Pomeroy at Berklee. "I took a film scoring class at UCLA when I was 17 and was hooked after I heard my charts played. Dick Grove was really my main mentor; he got me going as a writer. Then I won a Quincy Jones Arranging scholarship to Berklee and wrote for the recording orchestra. I ended up getting some amazing gigs as a sax player (Guns 'n' Roses, Joni Mitchell Project, Spinal Tap), but my calling is as a writer and arranger." She went on to orchestrate music for Warner Bros. Histeria!, and the Animaniacs/Pinky and the Brain feature, Wakko's Wish. Maxwell's original music has been licensed for numerous TV series."
A breakdown of Shiny! showcases Maxwell's penchant for conceptual writing. Here are track-by-track comments:
The album's title track, "Shiny!," is a nod to the 1970's, replete with wah-wah guitar, bongos, Fender Rhodes, and clavinet. The rhythm section is driven by drummer Steven Wolf's solid, deep-pocket boogaloo, with Paul Shaffer on Fender Rhodes, Will Lee on bass, Pete Levinon clavinet, Oz Noy and Smokey Hormel on guitars. Hormel takes a cool Eric Gale approach to the first guitar solo, leading right into Noy's high-energy response. Breckerdelivers a stellar signature wah-wah trumpet solo as only he can, followed by Taylor's free jazz expression over a steadily building background. Capped with a satisfying TV ending, "Shiny!" lives up to its name!
"Son of Creeper" was written by the late Hiram Bullock, original guitarist of the Letterman band. "Hiram was a close friend, and such an integral part of the music scene in New York," Lisa explains. "When he played, songs could take all kinds of weird and unexpected turns. I wanted to make the arrangement unique à la Hiram." Maxwell's version starts with Stern'sguitar, which is joined by Shaffer on organ, Lee on bass (also on the original recording), and Wolf on drums. "All three of these guys played with Hiram for years, so the feel and the spirit are perfect," she says. The tune moves between a half-time shuffle and rock, fused together by Maxwell's tasty horn lines. Stern's emblematic solo leads into a New Orleans section, where various soloists trade 4's with Shaffer, and the band recaps the theme for the shout chorus as Foster's wailing SNL sax leads into the epic screaming trumpet ending.
"Ludie," an up-beat, original jazz waltz, begs to be heard underscoring a TV show. "I wanted to write something for Lew (nicknamed Ludie) that reflected his character. I kept thinking of the happy feel of Mannix and tried to emulate that." The rhythm section is topped by drummer Perowsky, whose crisp, clean playing enhances his rhythm mates, Lee, Staaf, and Noy. Brecker's Flugelhorn solo feels like a spring morning, and Staaf's nimble piano solo shows off her tasteful style against Maxwell's background lines.
"We'll Be Together Again" highlights Maxwell's rich re-harmonization of the ballad. Rosenberg's bass clarinet under the woodwinds brings out the sexiness of the orchestrations. This unique arrangement features the velvety vocals of Kenya Hathaway(with Will Lee singing harmony) leading into a heartfelt tenor feature by Marini. With Gottlieb, Egan and Ezrin's dynamic interplay behind him, the tune builds into a lush, climactic ending, and may require a breather before listening on.
"Hello, Wayne?" is a straight-ahead tune, which echoes the sophisticated harmonic changes Wayne Shorter is known for. Gottlieb and Egan's driving straight-eighths intro, interlude, and ending seamlessly connect the heavily-swinging chorus and solo sections. Solos by Marini and Rogers remind all what high-level players they are. Rogers' trumpet solo propels the song into the shout chorus that transitions into the initial bass ostinato, and Leni Stern's noodling guitar riffs lead us out, until all that's left is Gottlieb's fading cymbals.
Maxwell's arrangement of Wayne Shorter's "Beauty and the Beast" opens with double-forte trumpets holding high notes, then dives into a funky vamp over Lee's static bass line. Maxwell fleshes out Shorter's stirring melody with beautifully orchestrated woodwind and brass couplings over Gottlieb's responsive drumming, adding the rich texture of the full band to the Samba-ish bridges. "I like to create new horn sections by combining different instruments families, and I use the extremes of the instruments for coloristic effect. It creates a much richer pallet." Rovatti, with a beautiful tone and facility on soprano sax, is the first of three soloists, followed by a robust solo from Mann, and Leni Stern's lyrical guitar, peppered by the horns' funky background lines, ending the tune.
"Israel" is straight ahead jazz with a "Rat Pack" feel, and the only tune to include an upright bass, played by Finck. Perowsky's crisp drumming and Staaf's comping serve as a solid foundation upon which the band's many elements interact. Maxwell also added Gottlieb on vibes to increase the flavor. Masterful solos from Clark on french horn, Rosenberg on baritone, and Brecker on trumpet shine like jewels in the crown of Maxwell's well-crafted arrangement, and conjure up James Bond at its best.
With Feldman expertly leading the woodwind section on clarinet, Maxwell's original, "The Craw," is an homage to Ellington's early years. Demonstrating her stylistic proficiency, the voicings ring authentic and the arrangement flows from section to section, swinging all the way. Ezrin and Levine personalize the melody on piano and trombone, respectively, followed by solos from Daly and Mann.
The album ends with "Shiny! Remix (MOWO 70's Emergency Mix)," Mocean Worker's(aka Adam Dorn) electronica take on the Maxwell's opening original. MOWO chops up the tune, and puts it back together as a funky dance groove with a Sly and the Family Stone feel over edits of Brecker's solo. "I wanted to keep it in today, and Mocean Worker has a fresh take on things," says Maxwell. She continues, "Music is always changing, and it's important to stay current so the word 'jazz' doesn't get stuck in yesterday's comfort zone. Miles (Davis) was the master of change. I think he would've dug the MOWO Remix!" For further info, please go to http://www.lisamaxwellmusic.com.