David Maxwell-Otis Spann

David Maxwell-Otis Spann
Conversations In Blue

Circumstantial Productions

By Karen Nugent
December 2011

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It might be a bit of a stretch to put Spann's name as a collaborator on this CD, given that he died in 1970, and has just one solo track on it - although he's weaved into four other “duet” tracks created by Maxwell.

Pianist Maxwell, a well-known veteran of the Boston blues scene, has cleverly capitalized on the Spann fame - and talent - with this 15-track recording comprised solely of instrumental piano numbers showcasing Maxwell and Spann on keys.

The four “duets” with Spann incorporate original tracks from the 1960 Candid Recordings Otis Spann is the Blues.

It's lively, toe-tapping juke music, with varied piano styles. The boogie-woogie opening song, “Marie,” one of Maxwell's solo tracks sets the mood. But the next tune, “Otis in the Dark” with Spann's licks incorporated, has more body. It just sounds fuller. (There's a corresponding “David in the Dark” a few tunes later, and it's quite good.)

Then there's the first of three “transition” pieces, aptly called “Transition #1” another Maxwell boogie-woogie solo, which eventually gets the listener to “Walking the Blues” again, with the richer, deeper Spann touch.

And so the recording progresses: A few Maxwell solos, a transition, a duet with Spann, more Maxwell solos, and then the solo Spann track, “Otis's Great Northern Stomp” which comes toward the end.

“Cow Cow Boogie” (a classic later revised for Ray Charles' “Mess Around”) is done remarkably well by Maxwell.

Another pleasant surprise shows up in “Spann and Bob” featuring none other than Robert Lockwood Jr. on guitar, with some horns. It's one of the best songs on the disk.

Maxwell first saw Spann, a long-time member of Muddy Water's band, perform with Waters in the 1960s, once in Cambridge. By the late 1960s, they had become friends and Maxwell picked up his style.

You can for sure tell that Maxwell, who sometimes leans toward jazz, loved the older man, especially at the end, when he utters “Thank you, Otis” several times, with a few “Whews” thrown in. According to Maxwell, connecting to Spann in his younger days changed the course of his musical direction. Not a bad thing.

The CD is impressive, even without vocals. Of course the songs with Spann are the best, but a few of Maxwell's crisp, toe-tapping boogie-woogies are hard to tell from Spann's. It required lots of checking the song titles.


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