Who is Maysa? Her sound eludes categorization, as her deep, subtle voice encompasses acid jazz, contemporary jazz, and R&B. While she cites Chaka Khan as one of her greatest influences, her sound recalls Anita Baker, Toni Braxton, and newer artists Floetry and Jill Scott. In other words, like these performers, Maysa bridges the gap between classic soul and contemporary R&B, crooning over slightly heavier beats. Her seventh solo album, Metamorphosis, continues this trend, which will please Incognito fans as well as contemporary jazz and soul fanciers.
Maysa (nee Maysa Leak) built her reputation as an R&B artist in the early 1990s; her big break came when providing backing vocals on Stevie Wonder's Jungle Fever soundtrack. Maysa gained further fame in 1992 through working with jazz-funk band Incognito; her smooth vocals on cuts such as “Don't You Worry 'Bout A Thing” and “Deep Water” endeared her to fans. Her most recent album with them, Tales from the Beach, was released earlier this year (see my Blogcritics review). While continuing to record with Incognito, she has released several solo albums featuring her deep vocals, which she uses to punctuate tempos and subtly emote rather than bombard listeners with vocal acrobatics.
Her latest album, Metamorphosis, provides an effective showcase for her talents. Midtempo tunes best spotlight her voice, and this album is replete with them. Maysa demonstrates her fluidity in various genres with songs such as “Happy Feelings,” a Brazilian-tinged track. “Love So True,” a lovely ballad, sounds most like the hit that Floetry and Braxton never had. Her sultry vocals rescue the song from complete banality and is contemporary jazz radio-friendly. “Walk Away” will appeal to listeners with its universal theme — the pain of a breakup. While the lyrics address heartache, the protagonist remains in control by choosing to walk away from a relationship. This positivity remains a characteristic of Incognito's as well as Maysa's work.
To demonstrate her range, Maysa also includes some uptempo songs, the most successful being “Simpatico,” the album's first single. Appropriately, the track kicks off Metamorphosis by joyfully describing a relationship completely in sync. She ventures into world music territory with “A Conversation with the Universe,” a collaboration with Global Noize. “Let's Figure It Out (A Song for Bluey)” morphs into a dance track; while Maysa can sing in various genres, acid jazz is clearly her strength, not dance.
The standout tracks include “Take Me Away,” which features jazz chord changes and a dreamy performance by Maysa; she even seamlessly weaves in a reference to Jean Carne's old school classic “Don't Let It Go to Your Head.” Incognito fans will enjoy “Never Really Ever,” a good example of their sound. Saxophonist/flautist Najee and guitarist Nick Colionne provide tasty accompaniment to “Higher Love,” a sexy piece of Brazilian samba that shows her playful side. Her enthusiastic vocals reveal her enjoyment in singing this tune.
Overall, Metamorphosis is a solid effort by a gifted vocalist. She carefully selected songs that would suit her vocal style, and the planning paid off. Her sound appeals to a wide variety of music fans, particularly those in the contemporary jazz, R&B, and neo soul camps. Therefore, while Incognito enthusiasts will definitely enjoy the album, wider R&B fanciers should not pass this album by. Maysa is an overlooked artist; with its radio-friendly but sophisticated songs, Metamorphosis should change that.
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