Review Summary: Maxophone may have gone out too soon, but their only album is among the finest works of Italian progressive.
Even within the Italian progressive scene of the 1970’s, Maxophone produced a sound unlike that of any other band. With brass-driven passages that combined jazz, rock and classical ideas, their sole album could very well be among the ten best Italian progressive rock records of all time; a dazzling stylistic whirlpool in which you never know what’s coming next. At one moment you may be treated to a gentle, romantic melody, the next a slice of Dixieland jazz, then a sudden, furious display of rock guitar. Because of its ability to change styles within the same song without losing momentum, the album is a consistently interesting melting pot of ideas.
Maxophone was also one of the few Italian groups of the decade that managed to record an English version of their album, although their particular attempt wasn't too great a success. The original lyrics add just the right spice to the album, unlike the translated ones, which could not entirely do it justice (note: this review covers the Italian version). The band were a high-energy six-piece, producing cohesive and forceful music with strong melodies and tightly executed changes. Locanda Delle Fate, Premiata Forneria Marconi (PFM) and Genesis were likely influences on their sound, with a hint of Emerson, Lake & Palmer as well.
Half the members of the Milanese sextet were classically trained musicians, with most also being multi-instrumentalists. Thanks to their diverse array of instruments, Maxophone pushed the boundaries of progressive music on this release by bringing uncommon sounds together with traditional ones, creating a wonderful, flowing sonic landscape.
The vibraphone features prominently, for instance, and while this in itself isn't unusual for a Rock Progressivo Italiano (RPI) record, it is when accompanied by clarinet, trumpet and horn. Along with the more orthodox progressive tools saxophone and flute, the wind instruments generally prove to be the album’s driving force. The most distinctive among this group is undoubtedly Maurizio Bianchini’s French horn, which adds a very majestic touch to many of the themes.
A diverse collection of melodies always keeps the songs in motion, but never leads them to become lost in a mess of random notes. The music is complex, but not to the point of muddling the melody. Many of the signature elements that set Italian prog apart from its British variant are present here. Fine vocal harmonies, sensible keyboard passages, and a stronger jazz influence are all featured in C'è un Paese al Mondo
, an impressive opener that is home to lush symphonic sections as well as swing jazz, and even a short waltz. All sorts of beautiful details are scattered throughout the arrangements.
boasts some of the album’s best saxophone parts, an absolutely phenomenal instrumental that builds on a muscular guitar riff, spacey sound effects and layers of horns, not to mention a fantastic vibraphone solo. The intro to Al Mancato Compleanno di Una Farfalla
is reminiscent of PFM’s River of Life
. The a cappella piece that follows is a great addition, and the vocal melody is very touching. Elzeviro
may call Strawbs to mind, and offers a fantastic instrumental break, particularly when the guitar crashes in; these kind of moments are where Maxophone really showed their potential.
Mercanti di Pazzie
is a vocal exercise with an immense yet fragile melody, vibraphone and flute playing together to form a cascading, eerily expressive piece. It is however Antiche Conclusioni Negre
that stands as the most unique and original song on the record, melting big-band riffs with melodic, vocal-oriented symphonic prog, going into a spacey instrumental theme in the middle, before ending with a fading gospel choir.
To say the least, Maxophone
is an impressive album overall, released by a band that unfortunately wasn’t entitled to more luck. All of its tracks feature complex, multi-part arrangements and passionate performances, and the innovation and creativity throughout the material is astonishing. Although the album may not have obtained the success it deserved when it was first released, it has become a progressive 'cult classic' over time, a must-have for collectors as it is definitely one of the essentials from the Italian scene.