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David Maxwell & Otis Spann - Conversations in Blue

Circumstantial Productions

Distributed by the VizzTone Group\

16 tracks/55:40

There is little debate when it comes to Otis Spann's place in the history of blues piano. Acknowledged as one of - if not the best -of all-time, Spann cemented his legacy during his lengthy stint as a member of the Muddy Water's band and then with two brilliant albums for the Candid label. Since his untimely death in 1970 from cancer, Spann's influence has faded as other piano players like late Pinetop Perkins, his replacement in Water's band, captured the attention of a new generation of blues fans. David Maxwell has decided to honor Spann by dedicating this all-instrumental recording to him and using four original tracks from the classic Otis Spann is the Blues album as a foundation for piano duets between Maxwell and Spann.

Maxwell saw Spann live numerous times during the 60's, ultimately forming a friendship which gave him further insights into Spann's playing. Maxwell shows his grasp of his mentor's style as he tears through the opening track, “Marie”, which Spann recorded for Vanguard Records. This rollicking version lasts almost three times as long as the original with Maxwell's left hand anchoring the rhythm as his right dances up and down the keyboard, spinning lines at a breakneck pace. “Cow Cow Boogie” allows Maxwell to demonstrate his mastery of the boogie woogie style while “David in the Dark” slows the pace a bit as Maxwell dazzles with some barrelhouse piano playing that makes you want to head for the nearest juke joint. “Twisted Tendons” gives Maxwell a chance to exercise his digital dexterity on another boogie piece taken at a furious pace. There are three distinct tracks titled “Transitions” that find Maxwell moving from a sprightly boogie to a romp through the changes to “Mess Around” and finishing with a brief flourish that serves as the lead-in to the closing track, a meditative number that injects a touch of gospel to the proceedings.

The duet tracks are a delight. On “Otis in the Dark”, Maxwell echoes Spann's playing but on “Walking the Blues”, Maxwell develops a different line of playing that intertwines beautifully with Spann's work recorded more than fifty years ago. “Get Your Hands Out of My Pockets” features a brisk tempo and plenty of cascading runs down the keyboards. Robert Junior Lockwood's guitar is present on “Spann and Bob” as a counterpoint to the two pianos. Also included from the Candid session is Spann playing solo on 'Otis's Great Northern Stomp”. Hearing his performance quickly illustrates the extent of his influence on Maxwell.

At the end, Maxwell takes a moment to say thank you to Spann and offers up the hope that his mentor's spirit will live on. No doubt it will once people hear this stunning release, which is nominated for a Blues Music Award in the Acoustic Album category. Maxwell is also nominated in the Acoustic Artist and Pinetop Perkins Piano Player categories. Maxwell reminds us all to take another look at Spann's legacy while at the same time making an emphatic claim for his own place in the history of blues piano.

Reviewer Mark Thompson is president of the Crossroads Blues Society in Rockford. IL. He has been listening to music of all kinds for fifty years. The first concert he attended was in Chicago with The Mothers of Invention and Cream. Life has never been the same.

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