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David Maxwell: Maximum Blues Piano

A highly respected pianist in the Boston area steps out with his own first album as a leader. On Maximum Blues Piano (Tone-Cool 1160; 66:23) consummate sideman David Maxwell tickles the ivories with aplomb in a variety of contexts. Like a pianistic Zelig, he has keenly assimilated the styles of Sunnyland Slim, Otis Spann, Big Maceo, Memphis Slim, Professor Longhair and Pinetop Perkins, among others. And for this musical travelogue that takes the listener on a ride to Chicago (“Deep Into It”), Kansas City (“Down At P.J.’s Place”), New Orleans (“Breakdown On The Bayou”) and into the heart of a Pentacostal church service (“Laura Lee”), Maxwell has surrounded himself with some stellar colleagues. Guest guitarist Ronnie Earl lays down his patented tasty licks on the slow blues “After Hours” and kicks into high gear on the foot-stomping horn-driven opener “Blues Don’t Bother Me.” On “Deep Into It” he takes his time, exploring a full range of emotion and dynamics against a slow blues backdrop. And the underrated Boston-area guitarist Duke Levine screams with sanctified fervor on the highly energized “Laura Lee.” On this predominantly instrumental program (Darrell Nulisch offers typically soulful vocals on the funky “Heart Attack”), Maxwell plays with uncommon drive on uptempo boogie woogie fare like “Blues Don’t Bother Me,” then displays real finesse along with some classic Kansas City block chording on “Down At P.J.’s Place.” His astonishing solo turn on “Honky Tonk Train” simulates the forward momentum of a train ride South, ultimately chugging into the station with much fanfare. And his rousing gospel/pop theme song “Manhattan Max” conjures up the late Richard Tee in full flight with Stuff. There’s even a touch of Ray Charles on “Take Me On Home,” a slow-moving gospel number that recalls “Drown In My Own Tears.” This guy has really got it together at the keyboard. Few others in the blues world today have the depth and chops to release an all-instrumental album. Ronnie Earl is one. Add David Maxwell to that short list.

Originally Published