Lisa Maxwell’s Jazz Orchestra – Shiny! – [TrackList follows] – Uncle Marvin Music UMM001, 55:52 [5/27/19] ****:
Think of those memorable, action-flecked 1960s and 1970s television film themes. Lalo Schifrin (“Mission: Impossible,” “ The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” and “Starsky and Hutch”); Morton Stevens (“Police Woman” and “Hawaii Five-O”); Mike Post (“The Rockford Files,” “The A-Team” and “Hill Street Blues”) and many others. Composer/arranger Lisa Maxwell has thought about those compositions as well as many, similar ones. Maxwell admits, “My writing is heavily influenced by the TV themes of the 1970’s. 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.” She also mentions Wayne Shorter and Gil Evans as important to her musical progress. All those inspirations flow through the nine tracks on Maxwell’s debut, the 56-minute Shiny!, credited to Lisa Maxwell’s Jazz Orchestra, a large ensemble which includes trumpeter Randy Brecker, guitarists Mike and Leni Stern, keyboardist Paul Shaffer and bassist Will Lee—both veterans of the David Letterman TV show band—plus many more artists with lengthy music credits. Shiny! is dedicated to Maxwell’s long-time acquaintance, trumpeter and composer Lew Soloff. Maxwell recalls, “My dear friend Lew Soloff and I talked about recording my arrangements many times over the years. Then he died suddenly, and I realized I had to stop thinking about it and get it done!” She then put together some of New York City’s eminent jazz and studio players, all of whom had a connection with Soloff.
The nearly ten-minute title track opener certainly could have been used as a theme for an action-packed TV program. Brecker supplies a dramatic wah-wah trumpet solo; Smoky Hormel contributes equally hip wah-wah guitar lines; the boogaloo arrangement is also affected by Shaffer’s funky Fender Rhodes, Pete Levin’s bright, soulful clavinet and Lee’s grooving bass. The high-energy tune is tempered by other elements, including bass trombonist Dave Taylor’s slightly free-jazz improvisation. Another upbeat cut which might function as a main theme for a television production is the four-minute “Ludie,” which was penned specifically as a Soloff memorial. Maxwell states, “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.” Carmen Staaf adds a tinkling piano solo; Brecker slips in a notable flugelhorn statement; and the crackling rhythm section enhances this piece’s punchy and nimble development.
Shorter’s impact is heard on two cuts. First there is the straight-ahead, six-minute “Hello, Wayne?”. Astute listeners will notice the erudite harmonic changes which evoke what Shorter is known for in many of his tunes. Standouts during this swinger include “Blue” Lou Marini’s tenor sax outing and Chris Rogers’ trumpet soloing. That is followed by Maxwell’s nine-minute adaptation of Shorter’s “Beauty and the Beast” (the original is on Shorter’s 1975 LP, Native Dancer). Maxwell supplements Shorter’s melody with woodwind and brass, which augment the Latin-esque bridges with a richer texture and subtle nuances. Maxwell explains, “I like to create new horn sections by combining different instrument families, and I use the extremes of the instruments for coloristic effect. It creates a much richer palette.” Maxwell also covers the late guitarist Hiram Bullock’s “Son of Creeper,” from his 1994 album World of Collision. Bullock—also a Letterman band alum—was close to Maxwell, who says, “Hiram was a close friend, and such an integral part of the music scene in New York. When he played, songs could take all kinds of weird and unexpected turns. I wanted to make the arrangement unique à la Hiram.” The nearly seven-minute rendition incorporates Shaffer on organ, Lee on bass, Mike Stern taking a full-on guitar solo and a wave of woodwinds and brass. Various soloists trade four’s with Shaffer, which peppers “Son of Creeper” with some great-sounding ensemble interplay.
Two noteworthy numbers are Carl Fischer’s 1940s-era pop hit “We’ll Be Together Again” and a bonus, album-closing “Shiny!” remix. Maxwell’s translation of “We’ll Be Together Again” is a warm ballad highlighting vocalist Kenya Hathaway, daughter of R&B and jazz singer Donny Hathaway. This standard has previously been done by Tony Bennett with Bill Evans, Ray Charles with Betty Carter, and scores more. Maxwell’s ebbing arrangement is accentuated by Marini’s tenor sax improvisation, some excellent coloring from massed trombones and trumpets, and understated swinging from the rhythm section. At the opposite side of the musical realm is Mocean Worker’s five-minute “Shiny!” revision, a thoroughly modern reconstruction entitled “Shiny! (The Mowo ‘70s Emergency Mix),” which has a funky dance groove akin to classic Sly and the Family Stone but with an electronica sheen. Maxwell admits, “I wanted to keep it in today, and Mocean Worker has a fresh take on things. Music is always changing, and it’s important to stay current so the word ‘jazz’ doesn’t get stuck in yesterday’s comfort zone.” Shiny! is a genuinely strong debut from a composer and arranger who hopefully will have the opportunity to issue more of her material.
Lisa Maxwell – producer, co-executive producer, arranger, (track 1) piano
Tony Kadleck, Chris Rogers, Wayne du Maine, Bryan Davis – trumpet
Randy Brecker (tracks 1-3, 7) – trumpet; (track 3) – Flugelhorn
Lawrence Feldman, Alex Foster, “Blue” Lou Marini, Ada Rovatti – woodwinds
“Blue” Lou Marini (tracks 4-5), David Mann (tracks 6, 8) – tenor saxophone
Alex Foster (track 2) – alto saxophone
Roger Rosenberg (track 7), Claire Daly (track 8) – baritone saxophone
Tom “Bones” Malone, Dan Levine, Mike Davis, Dave Taylor – trombone
John Clark – French horn
Paul Shaffer – (track 1) Fender Rhodes; (track 2) Hammond B-3 organ
Carmen Staaf (tracks 3, 7), Andy Ezrin (tracks 5-6, 8) – piano
Pete Levin – (track 1) clavinet, (track 6) keyboard
David Delhomme (track 4) – keyboards
Will Lee – (tracks 1-3, 6) bass; (track 1) bongos; (track 4) harmony vocals
Mark Egan (tracks 4, 8), David Finck (track 7) – bass
Mike Stern (track 2), Oz Noy (tracks 1, 3, 7), Leni Stern (tracks 5-6) – guitar
Smoky Hormel – (track 1) wah-wah guitar
Beth Gottlieb (track 7) – vibraphone
Danny Gottlieb (tracks 4-6, 8), Steven Wolf (tracks 1-2), Ben Perowsky (tracks 3, 7) – drums
Daniel Sadownick (track 2) – percussion
Kenya Hathaway (track 4) – vocals
Mocean Worker (track 9) – remix
Son of Creeper
We’ll Be Together Again
Beauty and the Beast
Shiny! (The Mowo ‘70s Emergency Mix)