As Neil Tesser explains in the liner notes to Shawn Maxwell’s Alliance, the new album from the Chicago reed man and composer Shawn Maxwell and his 10-piece ensemble, the group’s musical aesthetic owes a good deal to the musical ideas of Philip Glass and Frank Zappa. It is not so much that Maxwell is copying what they do, but rather that his music is growing out of the same soil that produced them. Indeed, Maxwell, while recognizing that many listeners have remarked on what they see as the Zappa influence, specifically says that he isn’t copying Zappa. That may well be—Zappa, Glass (the Glass of Glassworks), Maxwell—there’s something in the air.
The album consists of 18 tracks, some under two minutes, the longest running a bit over eight. Rather than calling them full-fledged compositions, Maxwell calls them sketches. In some sense this emphasizes their exploratory nature.
The instrumentation on the album is interesting—two French horns, vibraphone, guitar, soprano sax, two basses, and drums. There is a vocalist who works with the horns. The ensemble has an arresting sound that fits with the edgy nature of the album’s music.
The new album from New York-based, Swiss-born vocalist Beat Kaestli takes us on a multi-cultural European journey, with stops at French tradition, for a bit of Spanish re-imagining and even the Swiss National Anthem. Perhaps it’s the musical arrangement, with its emphasis on the accordion, but the album fairly exudes the sound of Europe.
While I’m not sure the world needs another version of “Frere Jacques,” Kaestli does deliver some fine work. He does a killer French version of Thelonious Monk’s “Round Midnight,” retitled “Autour de Minuit,” that in itself justifies the whole album. This duet with the bass of Matt Wigton is one of the album’s highlights, but it is not the only one. There are sweet takes on “La Mer” and “I Wish You Love/Que reste-t-il de nos amours.” He closes with the iconic “La vie en Rose.”
The album is due for release on March 22.
In Golden Lady, vocalist Beata Pater, working with pianist Hiromu Aoki and bassist Buca Necak, has put together an evocative set of 11 tunes showcasing her emotional range and sensitive color palate. Five of the pieces are by Brazilian composers. There’s a delicate version of “Someone to Light Up My Life” by Antonio Carlos Jobim and two pieces which had been recorded by Sarah Vaughn—an emotional take on “The Day It Rained” and “A Little Tear,” with a bit of vocalise from Pater.
Other pieces on the disc include Pater’s version of Stevie Wonder’s “Golden Lady” and the Maya Angelou poem “Turned to Blue,” with music by Jay Ashby.
Album release is set for March 4.