Stanley Maxwell - Don't Wake The Baby

Connecticut's Stanley Maxwell has one aspect of being a band nailed down: they're named after a dude, but not a dude in the band, and a possibly fictional dude at that.
The disassociated moniker is an elemental part of rock and roll that cannot be underestimated. Fortunately for Stanley Maxwell, they've got a lot more going for them than an irreverent name. The sounds on their debut album Don't Wake the Baby are some of the most serious I've heard in a while. There isn't a lot of money in playing complex, conservatory-honed jazz fusion these days, so you can tell these guys are in it for the playing. It would be nice if players like this were the ones selling loads of albums and downloads and merch, but there's not much one can do about the state of music today. It's better just to enjoy albums like Don't Wake the Baby, which floats above the cesspool of monthly money magnets that we are deluged with daily.

Hearing this quartet bop their way through their own brand of modern jazz is like a cleanser for the overexposed mind, as the four players manage to create an ensemble-sized sound with a wealth of nuance and compositional thoughtfulness. The smoky title track encompasses a great deal of Stanley Maxwell's influences, with sultry female guest vocals, a brief flurry of hip-hop lyricism, and a tasteful, understated jazz backdrop. "Defragmenting" is a sophisticated tune that nicely displays the band's soft-handed approach, where less notes and a lighter touch prevail. Not to say that they don't have their "out" moments - "No Good Reason" briefly visits outer space, and "Highway Patrol" mines a visceral stretch of asphalt and comes up funky - but the overall tone is one of tasteful separation and group consideration rather than ferocious soloing and brain-splitting speed.

Their signature tune, "Mousetrap," which has garnered them a great deal of acclaim, is as engaging as any corporate-approved jazz being made today. The bass and drums are locked into a world of their own, visited by hovering sax lines that color the landscape with intricate lines. "Bono's Squandering" and "Gianormous" exhibit touches of afrobeat and world rhythms, and it's easy to hear the NYC-vicinity influence on the sneaky "Not Yet," which blends uptown fuzz with some downtown funk and stirs in some melodica for a cocktail that has a hint of MMW aftertaste. Stanley Maxwell might be relatively unknown, but their sublime style and scholarly skills should endear them to audiences looking for something more in music today.

--Bryan Rodgers