There’s an earthy, primal kind of beat that pulsates through every song at a Maysa concert. It’s a sound akin to a heartbeat, a panting breath, or a sonic boom that touches the emotional core the way great music can. Maysa, jazz-soul singer, songwriter and Baltimore home girl soared before an adoring crowd of local fans at her sold-out songfest at the Birchmere on Friday night. Debuting her new solo album, Back2Love, Maysa covered the lyrical landscape in a soulfully eclectic mix of new musical treasures and old favorites that took us close to the Source of this terrific artist.
If contrast is the juxtaposition of dissimilar elements in color, tone or emotion, Maysa is a songstress who exploits difference in musical qualities with carefree abandon. She’s the hot, passionate sexy Mama on tunes such as the title song “Back2Love,” “Am I Wrong (for loving you),” “Dance with Me,” “Honey Bee,” and “Hooked on You.” She lives her love life in full view taking us through each bittersweet memory and drama-filled highs and lows in ballads such as “Hypnotic Love,” “Simpatico,” “Keep It Moving,” “Go Away Little Boy,” “Smilin,” “Unforgettable,” and “Caught Up.” She’s the motivational, inspirational tough lover on “Beautiful Dreamer,” and “Tear It Up Tear It Down,” another song she wrote for Back2Love.
She went totally dance-party with her flashback medley of dance tunes from the 70s and 80s, zipping through Old School R&B favorites from the Commodores, Evelyn King, Phyllis Hyman, the Isley Brothers, and others that had the crowd on its dancing feet. And she took us on the emotional roller coaster of love and loss with her “Deep Water” medley, a crowd-requested must-have. It was the Piece de Resistance finale to a three-hour lovefest between Maysa and the locals who love her and follow her.
Maysa’s music deeply reflects her inner landscape. You can hear and feel the emotional contrasts between her smooth and rough edges, sometimes gritty sometimes ephemeral, dreamer yet down-to-earth pragmatist, worldly round-the-world woman and girlfriend from round-the-way. She’s self-confident but vulnerably naïve in love, sophisticated but plain-spoken, and at times hilariously funny in a profane yet profound kind of way. Sometimes she goes international and scats to a Samba beat with a Brazilian sound.
By the way, she’s one of the best contemporary scat-singers around. But she can bring it back home with a funky Chuck Brown Go-Go beat. She even does a spoken word version of hip-hop on the dramatic “Sophisticated Lover.” Contrast gives energy to her rich performance.
Whether crooning smooth jazz, sophisticated R&B, or jazz-funk, Maysa brings life experience to her musical expression with mature, rich, classically-trained vocals that create an unfiltered rapport with her audience that eminently pleases. She fearlessly puts her stuff out there when she admits that her battle with weight is part of her being a BSer about losing weight. She unabashedly sings about her quest for love. In Back2Love she showcases her great songwriting talents and turns a new page in music and lyrics in her hope for requited love. But maybe music is Maysa’s real love along with her 16-year old son, Jazz, when she told us, “Music is me—it’s my heart, my soul, my everything”.
A 7-piece musical ensemble and a male/female backup duo were a great complement. Up-tempo guitar and horn solos, beautiful keyboards, strong congas and drums melded swelling crescendos, celestial chimes and the sounds of cascading waterfalls to a strong beat that mark Maysa’s distinctive style. It took a bit for the musicians to get into the flow as the ensemble played half of the new songs from her latest CD, Back2Love for the first time. Maysa rules her stage, however, and she keeps the musicians from playing too loud for her sonorous voice, making sure they “bring it down” as she gets into a particular groove.
Maysa is on a musical roll. She received her first Grammy Award nomination in 2014 and the 2015 release of Back2Love featuring Mint Condition’s Stokely Williams debuted at #9 on the Billboard chart. This year is one of many celebrations for Maysa including 25 years in the music industry and 20 as a solo artist. She’s also celebrating her 50th birthday and launched her dream to produce her own fragrance named Maysa. Since she first sang backup for Stevie Wonder and was discovered by London-based Incognito, Maysa has successfully been growing her brand and admiring followers.
She received a rousing, standing ovation for a high-wattage performance that’s a likely preview of things to come when she returns to the Birchmere in September 2015. Go see her when she comes back.
Running Time: One hour, a 20-minute intermission, and two hours thereafter.
Maysa performed for one night only on June 26, 2015 at The Birchmere Music Hall – 3701 Mount Vernon Avenue, in Alexandria, VA. For tickets, call Ticketmaster at (800) 745-3000, or purchase them online.