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Lisa Maxwell Big Band: Shiny! (Uncle Marvin Music)

A review of the debut album from the composer/arranger

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Lisa Maxwell Big Band, Shiny!
The cover of Shiny! by the Lisa Maxwell Big Band

If Lisa Maxwell’s name means nothing to you, perhaps Lew Soloff’s might. The veteran trumpeter had long championed Maxwell’s work as an arranger, and urged her to make an album of her own; his fatal heart attack in 2015 made her realize that she shouldn’t wait. And so, Shiny!

Maxwell’s isn’t a working band, so the Shiny! sessions relied on first-call New York horn players, many of them, like Soloff, veterans of the Gil Evans Orchestra. Trumpeter Randy Brecker is the biggest name of the bunch, and there’s also Soloff’s old Blood, Sweat & Tears comrade Lou Marini in the sax section. But it’s the rhythm section that shines brightest, what with Will Lee on bass, Paul Shaffer on keys, and a guitar rotisserie that includes Mike Stern, Oz Noy, and Leni Stern.

It makes sense that Maxwell would invest heavily there, though, because her charts are very much built from the groove up. You’d have to go back to late-’60s Quincy Jones to find a better example of big-band boogaloo than what Maxwell cooks up with the title tune. Over Lee’s funkily busy bassline—augmented by both clavinet and wah-wah guitar—Maxwell parries cool, bluesy woodwind lines against punchy brass exclamations so expertly that you may find yourself wondering what ’70s action movie the music originally came from. And in case you thought the funk needed reinforcing, the album closes with a remix of the tune by Mocean Worker (a.k.a. Adam Dorn, son of jazz producer Joel Dorn).

It isn’t all groove tunes, of course. There’s also “Ludie,” a lovely, deftly colored waltz featuring a fine flugelhorn solo from Brecker, and even a straight-up standard, the torchy “We’ll Be Together Again” (with vocals by Kenya Hathaway and Lee). But the best moments do tend to be the funkiest, as when Maxwell translates the dreamy Brasiliana of Wayne Shorter’s “Beauty and the Beast” into something that sounds more like the Headhunters plus horns.

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J.D. Considine

J.D. Considine has been writing about jazz and other forms of music since 1977. His work has appeared in numerous newspapers and magazines, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly, Musician, Spin, Vibe, Blender, Revolver, and Guitar World. He was music critic at the Baltimore Sun for 13 years, and jazz critic at the Globe and Mail for nine. He has lived in Toronto since 2001.