Max Highstein gets around. A multi-instrumentalist, composer, and recording artist who takes us into jazz, rock, and classical music forms. He has the remarkable pairing of great melodies and fabulous arrangements.
Highstein has just released his latest album, Tiptoes, in which he displays his agility between soprano, Alto, and tenor saxophones along with the clarinet, piano, organ, and fretless bass. He easily maneuvers between power and warm expression.
With Highstein are Ed Willett on cello, Jeff Pevar on guitar, John Yoakum on flute, and Mark Clark on drums, Udu, Congas, and more. All 11 songs on the album are written by Highstein himself and those songs are impressive.
The album opens with the title track, Tiptoes. Immediately, the fretless bass is heard along with the flute and organ and percussion. The clarinet is catchy and the whole tune is lively and intriguing. A fine start to all that is to follow.
The Listener picks up the tempo and Highstein’s saxes are in high gear and, again, the melody is spot-on. The organ gets centerstage for Meanwhile, In the Back Seat and Pevar’s guitar is straight-up smoking. But you’ve got to love the way Highstein works the sax. I’ll say it again, the melodies are just so cool.
That’s the Spot and All Bounced Up make for interesting rhythms and gliding sax work. But whatever instrument Highstein touches turns to gold. Willett adds a great cello on That’s the Spot but oh, that soprano sax.
Skycap Bevnap and The Reason to Be Happy are both infectious tunes that stick in your head. I went to get something to drink and the latter song was stuck in my head. The rhythm section on Brother’s Keeper is wonderful and the cello adds a mood that is splendid. Highstein’s piano is Vince Guaraldi cool.
The Weaver’s Tale is a beauty that moves along terrific lines between soprano sax, piano, and cello. This was maybe the song that stayed with me the longest. Toe Trucker is a bluesy tune with fine organ work and the hot tenor sax. The cello carries the melody for a bit before the Pevar guitar works it over. Then back to cello. The trades are absolutely righteous.
Path of the Heart wraps up the album and Rusty Crutcher adds his own alto and tenor saxes. The paired horns between Highstein and Crutcher are fantastic with an almost Spyro Gyra feel. And, for me, that’s a good thing. The piano is wonderful and Clark’s rhythm work is flawless. Pay attention to Pevar’s guitar.
Tiptoes is a brilliant display of Max Highstein’s dexterity on such various instruments and a tribute to his profound but accessible compositional skills and talents. The melodies never miss—not once. There isn’t a weak spot or a weak performance on the whole album. The players are well-suited to the tunes and the results are warm and satisfying.
This is an album to be heard and cherished over and over.
~Travis Rogers, Jr. is The Jazz Owl
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