Completing the Cycle
"Your work, your music, is an inspiration and should be heard by any lover of jazz and music from the heart. It takes so much courage to find your own sound and to play your truth. You have done both. I am so grateful to call you a friend and colleague. Keep up all of the beautiful sharing of sounds from the heart. Your music is just what I wanted to hear today. Jazz guitar is in good hands...yours."
- Rodney Jones
Recording an album is a big deal.
Cynicism would state otherwise. Cynicism would state that tons of new releases come out every year, and that the sheer volume resulting from an amalgamation of those years would indicate that it’s not a big deal.
But it is.
Because it’s not about the numbers. It’s about a musician sitting down with his or her instrument. It’s about the struggle to better oneself, to find that singular voice, that expression of music that is unique only to them and represents all the thoughts and emotions and aspirations and dreams that bounce around their head and floods their heart. Because artistic creativity is not just about an expression of self, it’s about conquering all of the doubt artists encounter throughout the process, of overcoming a murderer’s row of fears and insecurities and handicaps borne from their own psyche in the pursuit of giving form and function to a creative piece.
It’s a big deal because it’s hard. And if a musician puts their heart into a project, they are open to some god-awful heartbreak. That’s why recording an album is a big deal.
Over the course of one year (April of 2011 to March 2012), Josh Maxey did it six times.
With the goal in mind of releasing six albums within a twelve month span, Maxey set to recording, mixing, and producing a series of albums that would document his progress as a musician and the development of his singular voice.
And he did it well. Six albums, six different sounds, six different line-ups, and six solid recordings that should make listeners happy and the artist proud. It’s a hell of an accomplishment, and now that Maxey has collected these recordings in a box set retrospective, it’s worth revisiting them.
The notable characteristic about these six albums is that, given their six distinct sounds, Maxey’s personal voice on guitar establishes itself over the course of those recordings to where it is becoming terribly close to being recognizable as belonging only to him. That personal voice that every artist in every medium strives to develop and achieve during a lifetime, Maxey’s guitar gives plenty of signs of its eventual bloom. And it’s that sound which binds these six album into one cohesive whole. Even as each album has a distinct sound, Maxey ties them all together with the constancy of his guitar.
And while much of that cohesion is attributable to the growth of Maxey’s personal sound, a lot of it has everything to do with the blues.
Listen to the album Argument for the Blues. It’s the fifth album in the series, but if one were to map the six Maxey albums collected in this box set from seed to tree, Argument for the Blues is the most elemental of the six. Two people sitting in a room with guitars, covering classic blues artists, modern artists, and Maxey originals, honoring the past and stamping their name on the present.
And the blues are evident in all six recordings. There's "Premonition" from the album Incarnate, where Maxey's guitar counters an upbeat tempo with a pained smile at a sun he believes hiding behind darkened clouds. Or how about "Dear Ones" from Approach, melancholy in the way endings can be, even when they're Happily Ever After. There's the spiritual-heavy blues of "Part I" from The Language of Sound and Spirit. The duo guitar album Argument for the Blues provides a rendition of Robert Johnson's "Hellhound On My Trail," and gives it a rivers-edge peacefulness that contrasts lovingly with the song's despair-riddled subject matter. And then there's "New Tide" from Light Cycles, and its show of the fiery side of the blues, set at a temperature that smolders evocatively. And, of course, all of the album Cycles of Sound, a live performance recording in which an ocean of thoughts had to be flowing through Maxey's head as he performed what he knew to be the culminating moment of a project that, at times, seemed unlikely to achieve.
Listen from the beginning. Revelatory moments are sprinkled throughout the six albums, but it's always best to start where it all began.
And it starts with Incarnate. A quintet session with a brisk pace, and bolstered by Rodney Jones and Tim Collins on guitar and vibes, Maxey concocts a potent mix of jazz and blues-rock. Even when a song enters a melodic drift, it's still swept away on the currents of tempo. Maxey's guitar darts in between the fence posts of rhythm and melody, generating more speed and kicking up dust. A breathless album that dares the listener to try to catch it.
The sophomore release is Approach. This time, a guitar-organ trio, with Brian Charette on the keys and McClenty Hunter on drums. An album thick with the blues, and it hangs in the air like smoke in a beat-down roadhouse. And where prior album Incarnate displayed Maxey's talents with motion at high speeds, Approach has Maxey focusing more on the soul of the songs. Tuneful, with a friendly demeanor. Even when getting its feet moving fast, the trio makes it look easy-peasy and cool blue.
The third album of six is The Language of Sound and Spirit. This is where the spiritual side of Maxey's creativity is finally revealed. A core quartet that brings back Charette on organ, but also adds the saxophones of Chase Baird, brings in Jeremy Noller on drums, and guests on acoustic guitar, NA flute, and singing bowls, Maxey creates an intoxicating ambiance of floating melodies, rhythms that hover just above the earth, and a sense that the motion of each song is left to the will of whatever force chooses to guide it.
Number four in the series is the aforementioned Argument for the Blues. A duo guitar collaboration, with Maxey on electric and David Nicholson on acoustic, it puts on full display the beating heart of the six albums comprising the series.
Fifth album Light Cycles features a different line-up and ten original compositions, Maxey keeps things loose, and lets songs become shapes with fuzzy edges and indistinct shading. The music is more free, and that he keeps it unburdened by form is what imbues the tunes with a serene lightness... the kind of music perfect for simply drifting off to. Frequent collaborator Charette is back again, but now on piano instead of organ. Maxey brings back Nicholson on acoustic guitar... an element that Maxey continues to mine, hitting rich veins of textural beauty. He also brings in Rob Woodcock on bass, and with Woodcock at the low end and Nicholson's acoustic guitar a few flights up from there, Maxey takes advantage of all the space to maneuver between those two bookends. This album is a look to the future. With new compositions and a greater confidence in leading an ensemble, the freedom of the music portends some momentous projects down the road. It's Maxey continuing to develop even as he documents his sound of today.
The grand finale of the series is Cycles of Sound. A live performance, Maxey's sextet performs compositions that highlight the previous five albums. Full of energy and exuberance, and one can't help but wonder what was going through Maxey's head as he played guitar on a night that marked the achievement of a lofty goal. The music itself provides many of the answers.
And, really, that's as it should be. Because even though releasing six albums in a year's time is a big deal, it's what the music has to say that, ultimately, is the truest statement of all.
Now, begin listening...
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