Italian Progressive Rock (RPI) is littered with this sort of record-a single album on a tiny label which vanished into obscurity on its release, but which has more recently been re-appraised and introduced to an latter-day audience with more eclectic, adventurous tastes. A lot of these albums are obscure for a good reason (they weren’t very good at the time, and no amount of revisionism will alter that), but once in a while an album emerges which bucks the trend and urges you to listen with fresh ears: ‘Maxophone‘ is one such album.
Formed in Milan in 1973 this album was released on the Produtorri Associati label in 1975 as a domestic release. A remixed English language version with a different running order was released in Germany, and this version was licensed for release in the USA and Canada. Although not unique, not every RPI band recorded English versions and the label obviously had high hopes for the band to enable this to happen. The six piece band utilise a variety of instruments more usually found in an orchestra: between them Leonardo Schiavone and Maurizio Bianchini employ sax, clarinet,French horn, trumpet and flute as well as vibraphone and various percussion instruments. This reflects the classical education of half the band, the other half being schooled in rock. The duality of the band is well-suited to the music, quickly and seamlessly shifting from classical to rock and all stations in between along the way, amply demonstrated in the first two tracks: ‘C’e Un Paese Al Mondo’ starts with Baroque piano before slipping into fiery jazz-rock riffing which in turn lead into a section much reminiscent of Genesis. Clarinet-led swinging jazz follows next, then resolves into an orchestral interlude. Adding guitar and horns takes us back to the Gabriel-soundalike for the conclusion. The intricate riffs which begin ‘Fase’ give way to a saxophone solo, then a section which could have been lifted from Brian Wilson‘s wackier instrumental moments (including a lovely vibraphone solo). Guitar rock next, duelling first with a tuba, then a flute and fading out with an acoustic guitar, bringing contrasting musical shadow and light.
With one song just under nine minutes and the average lasting around six-and-a-half, Maxophone pack a multitude of ideas into the six songs, lasting just under what used to be one side of a cassette (45 minutes-to this day, still the optimum length for 99% of all albums), and they never plod or bore. The different parts flow easily into one another, giving the whole album an organic, laid back feel, and the playing throughout by each member is very impressive.
Musically Maxophone recall Gentle Giant, with their use of orchestral instruments and the occasional detour into medieval themes. However they have a lightness of touch more usually associated with Canterbury-scene bands Caravan and National Health, which makes their stylistic leaps more palatable than some of GG’s more, erm, adventurous moments. This isn’t to say that they are bland: Roberto Guiliani puts down the kind of riff Gary Moore used to throw down in his Colosseum II days (and can hold his own as a soloist too), and the whole band can tear it up when they want to, but what impresses is the ease they ‘progress’ from one genre to another, equally at home with a cocktail-jazz groove as with a Weather Report-style jazz odyssey.
That the label thought enough of them to release an English language version is testament to the strength of the songs and the band itself, but for one reason or another Maxophone never found their audience at the time and this was to be their only contribution to the Prog-Rock time-line.
Recommended for fans of the above-mentioned bands, and for anyone who likes music with a little something extra.
Buy it if you can find it.