Fronted by an already well-established Chicago area saxophonist, the “Shawn Maxwell Alliance” expands the concept of what a mixed ensemble can accomplish in the jazz realm. This debut album features a sprawling list of modern jazz composers and leaders including another Chicago saxophonist, Chris Greene, vocalist Keri Johnsrud, vibraphonist Stephen Lynerd, and bassist Stacy McMichael. The group is augmented with a collection of featured players including guitarist Mitch Corso, double bassist Marc Piane, drummer Paul Townsend and Rachel Maxwell and Meghan Fulton on french horn.
A long list of tunes accompanies this large ensemble as the album features a full 18 tracks of original compositions. A cryptic list of titles including “Radio Hit Number Four” (actual album track # 11) and “EGOT” seems to reference inside jokes and industry terminology. Dave Holland’s Big Band and Michael Brecker’s Quindectet are obvious influences here, though elements of Sun Ra can be heard in the tracks “Quartan” and “Perpetual Day One”.
With the exception of the aptly titled “Here’s Your Swing Tune”, all of the grooves are either straight or free and most of the song structure is motivic. Instead of relying on a repeating form of chord changes to support solos, Shawn’s compositional style tends to layer repeating riffs and phrases into themes. Soloists are then free to take liberties with the material, bending and shaping it before returning to the original idea. A concept album in the jazz genre if there ever was one.