Ok...one should never start a review with the words "ok" or "so", but I do it anyway. Okay then...this is a tough one. Maxophone is one of those one-hit wonders of rock progressivo Italiano that nominally could be categorized with PFM, Banco or LeOrme...my holy trinity of that genre. Maxophone, had they persisted should have stood shoulder to shoulder with them, as well as with symphonic prog masters such as Genesis, Yes and ELP. In fact this album has been sought for many years by fans of rock progressivo italiano and for good reason.
Most of the songs on Maxophone's debut defy description mixing jazz, rock, blues, funk and, of course, classical. History tells us that Maxophone was the joining together of three rock musicians with three classical musicians, and if true, it explains a lot, particularly the eclectic nature of the band. Despite the fact that these songs defy description, I will do my best to describe some of the songs so the reader can decide if this album is worth investigating. I also may "name-drop" other bands to give the reader a sense of what the album sounds like. This is not to imply that Maxophone is derivative or ripping these bands off, because I do not believe that this is the case. Maxophone may incorporate many different styles but have a style all their own. Describing the music in the context of familiar bands should give the reader some idea if this recording will be pleasing to them.
Setting the tone for the album is one of the album's strongest tunes "C'e un paese al mondo" which kicks off the album in grand style...beginning with hauntingly beautiful piano before electric guitar, drums, bass and organ barge in with a time signature change at less than minute, signaling the first of several different movements and time changes within this six and a half minute song. At this point the band compares very favorably to PFM, Genesis or Yes in terms of complexity and talent, with a very strong vocal performance from their lead singer.
The next song "Fase" starts like a blues-rock-prog jam, sounding something like Edgar Winter had hijacked Yes, before sliding through symphonic mode into jazz. Before long, this is abandoned in exchange for some Tony Banks-style keyboards, then to vibraphone (or xylophone?) back to blues-prog, then to a flute solo and back again. Perhaps the reader is beginning to sympathize with this writer. It is not easy to describe these songs or do them the justice that they deserve.
"Al mancato compleanno una farfalle" is one of the more gentle songs on "Maxophone" and has some nice vocal harmonies before launching into hard rock mode about four minutes in. The faster section of the song has keyboard playing reminiscent of Keith Emerson, and my previous statements not withstanding, is probably the most derivative moment on the album. However, nowhere and no-when would I ever consider sounding like Keith Emerson to be a flaw.
The fourth track "Elzeviro", sounds a little bit like the inspired chaos that characterizes Area International Popular Group with Maxophone's vocalist nearly attaining the dramatic heights attained by Area's vocalist, the late lamented Demetrio Stratos, while avoiding the excesses of that band. By turns, the song is jazzy, funky and symphonic before transforming into something resembling early Genesis.
"Mercanti di Pazzio", like "Al mancato" begins gently, except in this case maintains a gentle tempo and tone, comparing favorably to mellower Genesis fare such as "Ripples". "Antichi conclusioni negre" closes the album with some funky, spacey keyboard playing and excellent drumming. This song also boasts some fine saxophone playing, memorable guitar work and Yes-style harmonizing. It definitely closes the album in grandiose style.
The final two songs appear to be bonus tracks that are not part of the album proper, but are part of the iTunes rerelease. "Il fischio del vapore" contains a strong, melodic and confident vocal performance even if the song is relatively simple. "Cono di gelato" could almost be described as a blue-eyed soul or pop ballad. Is it progressive? No. Is it alluring, soulful, beautiful and worth a listen? Absolutely.
The overall verdict is that this is a stunning debut album that unfortunately did not evolve into a lengthy career for Maxophone. I would love to know what happened and why this promising beginning did not amount to much beyond a cult oddity, all but forgotten except by hardcore prog fans like myself. "Maxophone" is such a great recording that I still feel like I cannot do it justice with mere words. I would love to hijack a radio station and just play it over and over again (even the pop-oriented bonus tracks) until everybody has heard it. I love this album that much. However this album does contain an annoying artifact of the time in which it was recorded..the fadeout. On "Fase" especially, the fadeout was disappointing because it was fading while some interesting music was still going on. Aside from that minor gripe this is a brilliant album, a masterpiece of progressive rock. Bravo!