With the E-Type Boys, south Londoner Maxi Jazz is exploring a funky, rocky seam, with jazz inflections, away from Faithless, the seminal electronica dance act that has been his main gig since the mid-1990s. Here, the besuited Boys (and girl, the wonderful backing vocalist Azadeh Akhbari) were augmented to telling effect by the Kick Horns, the UK section with an almost absurdly long list of supernova recording and gigging credits.
With twin guitars, keyboards, two backing singers and full rhythm section including percussion there is no danger of Maxi being under-supported in his new venture. In fact, you might think there was a risk of him being overwhelmed; after all his voice is a subtle thing, full of breathy, low-pitched restraint with a touch of vibrato adding a distinguished, knowing, vibe. But this disciplined, listening band soon allayed any fears. Every instrument had its place; the two lead guitars – Chris Dover on slide and Jake Libretto – meshing with echoes of Denny Dias and Jeff Skunk Baxter from early Steely Dan, especially on tracks like 'Saturday Morning Blues'. Similarly, Alexis Countouris' bass work elevated accuracy and punctuation above thunder; but make no mistake, the power was there, it had just been thought about. And Basil Isaac's percussion contributed far more than sheer rhythm, his instrument choices and note placement always enhancing the compositions, making a sonic space zone all of his own.
Maxi's songs, some co-written with backing singer LSK – who occasionally shared lead vocals – are often riff-based, but just as the listener enters their comfort zone, they suddenly switch to bridges or refrains at other tempos, sometimes other time signatures, often 6/8, a device familiar in hip hop. Showcasing this technique were excellent, well structured tracks like the excellent 'Stand Firm', 'Going Back to the Bottle' and 'Smoke Screen', performed with a lean panache every bit as sharp as Maxi's suit. The addition of the Kick Horns (on this occasion trumpet, tenor, baritone and trombone) for the London dates was a masterstroke. The outstanding sound quality at Ronnie's meant the section's superb arranging, accuracy and command of articulation was rendered with the utmost clarity. 'A Long Time Gone' featured a simmering riff prodded along by lush, split, harmonised lines. 'I've Got Something in My Eye' saw the section switch to unison mode; ascending, dissonant voicings added tension behind Jake Libretto's searing guitar work. 'We're Alright''s slow funk groove complemented by super-smooth flugelhorn and flute.
The horns inevitably added a jazz inflection with their sophistication, but that was also true of Chris Jerome's keyboard contribution. In another example of well thought out arranging it was often left to him to round off tracks with solo piano improvisations, as on 'Chasing Shadows' and the evening's peak performance, the penultimate track 'Bitter Love', which also featured Jerome's fine Hammond-style solo.
Maxi is a man of many interests: a Buddhist who loves motor racing and Crystal Palace FC (he's a non-executive director) and he brings this eclectic quality to his music, which often seems about to veer off on a cross-genre voyage before being brought back to base camp. He had enough of his fans in the audience to guarantee a good reception, but those at Ronnies on spec, perhaps expecting a more traditionally jazz evening, appeared to be totally won over by the end of the gig, responding with a near universal standing ovation. Maybe next time we'll find out more about where that voyage is heading.
– Adam McCulloch
– Carl Hyde