SEPTEMBER * Album Of The Month *
(5 / 5)
Max Beesley is an accomplished actor, world class musician, producer and writer. A top notch vibes (vibraphone) and keyboard player.
“Zeus” is the brilliant debut album by Max Beesley’s High Vibes – who previously released two classic 12 inch singles on Boogie Back Records at the height of the Acid Jazz movement in 1993/1994.
Eight tracks, circa 36 minutes, all tracks penned by Max, opening with the fabulously funky and infectious title cut, with Max giving it large on vibes in fine style. Classy horn arrangement from The Horn House, and Jerry Meehan on bass more than earns his keep on the bottom end.
For “Zeus”, Max set out to create something very special (he achieved it, and some…) and reached out to some of the most sought-after session players in the world to play on the record.
Mega-drummer Steve Gadd was a friend of Max’s from many years ago, when the two played on George Benson’s 1996 album “That’s Right”. Steve came on board on four tracks on “Zeus” – with Max also playing drums on the remaining four tracks – and Steve suggested his good friend Walt Fowler would be a great addition for soloing on flugel and trumpet. Good call (check out track four, “Juice”.)
Max then reached out to renowned guitarist Dean Parks, who is one of the most recorded players in the 21st century. Max has admired percussionist Luis Conte for many years and he has worked extensively with Steve, Dean and Walt in the James Taylor band among many other huge artists.
Bassist Jerry Meehan is Max’s close school friend. Together they have produced and written songs, film scores and toured together with many artists. Jerry also served as a co-producer on the record: Max’s good friend Christian Sands plays keyboards on the album. A bloody awesome player across this record. Think Joe Sample, Herbie Hancock, Bob James, Jeff Lorber et al.
The Horn House is Nichol Thomson on trombone, Tom Walsh on trumpet and Mike Davis adding trumpet on some tracks. Nichol and Max took on the horn arrangements. Spanking horn section indeed.
File this absolute beaut of an album under jazz, jazz funk, funk or whatever you want to. It is one of the best album releases of any genre of 2023, without question. As for it being Max’s first ever album…well, it better not be his first and last or there’ll be hell to pay! More Max, much more…
Some background on Mr Beesley, actor and musician from Manchester. At 11 he was awarded a scholarship to Chetham’s School Of Music, Manchester where he studied piano percussion and composition. During his time at Chetham’s he played with the chamber orchestra, symphony orchestra, octets, and quartets, as a pianist and percussionist.
He also developed a strong connection to jazz and r&b, citing Bill Evans and Herbie Hancock as some of his main influences. He developed his natural talent as a jazz musician along with the everyday classical music program.
He played with The National Jazz Orchestra The National Chamber orchestra and The European Community orchestra under such luminaries as Claudio Abbado, Simon Rattle and Pierre Boulez. At 18 he won five scholarships to the major conservatories: Trinity College Of Music, The Guildhall School of Music and Drama, The Royal College of Music, The Royal Academy of Music and The Royal Northern. He worked with Leonard Bernstein in this period, also with Michel Legrand.
He became more and more interested in the compositional works of John Williams, and at the other end of the spectrum, Lalo Schifrin, both informing the way he works today. At the same time enjoying the soul and structure of John Barry’s voicings throughout the orchestra, and use of specific instruments for his unique sound.
After a year at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama he was asked to join Paul Weller’s band, and recorded and toured with him for the next two years. He became one of the most sought-after multi-instrumentalists in the session business, playing with Stevie Wonder, Chaka Khan, Maceo Parker, Earth Wind & Fire, Red Rodney, George Benson, Charles MacPherson, in Clint Eastwood’s “Birdland” movie, Bobby Shew, Maynard Ferguson, James Brown, Incognito, The Brand New Heavies, Robbie Williams, George Michael and Jamiroquai.
This album, grows on you the more you play it. The title track is one of my Top 10 single tracks of this year. I love it, but my wife has got the right hump that I keep playing it over and over!!! Blame Max and his mates, love.
Review by Andy Faith
(2 / 5) ‘OK Zone’
(3 / 5) ‘Decent Zone’
(4 / 5) ‘Super Zone’
(5 / 5) ‘Awesome Zone’