When you venture out to catch a live performance, a vibrant conduit between performer and audience opens up. Hopefully at such times they will heighten you with their gift of song, in the supreme way that only music can, even making, when at its best, the sensual sound akin to spiritual and vice versa.
However, for all the elevatory joys I personally have had on such occasions, and they have been rich in multitude and splendour, I don’t think I’ve ever found myself literally open-mouthed in amazed rapture, almost frozen in awe, only to look around and witness a sea of faces around me clearly feeling exactly the same. On the 23rd of July 2014 at the Jazz Cafe in Camden, London – such a moment came into being. Spinning into town on the cusp of her latest (10th) album for a flying three-date UK visit was the acclaimed Maysa who, after delivering to the avid collective present the track Sophisticated Lover in the main, then took said tune and continued on with free-style improvised vocals reaching a whole new and unsurpassable level. As she took everyone witnessing this showcase on a truly bewitching journey of adept vocal agility it is no exaggeration at this point to use that adage you could hear a pin drop; only matched in full counter-balance by the immense roar that rose in unison when she closed her epic rendition. Be they well-versed or uninitiated to her talent, undoubtedly what stood before her from thereon in was a crowd with one unified and lasting impression; they had just borne witness to undeniable greatness.
I am unable to provide you with an audio of what I’ve just described, her engagingly humorous lead-in to why she penned this track, nor the incredible vocal journey that followed; but here is Sophisticated Lover as it so sublimely sits on her new album Blue Velvet Soul.
Like many truly transcendent singers weaving their soulful thaumaturgy for our delectation, Maysa (or Maysa Leak as she is also known), whilst undeniably acclaimed with a two-decade career, is not a house-hold name. She should be. If this were the era of Ella Fitzgerald and the like being at their peak, I have no doubt Maysa would be right up there with them. Of those who do possess the good fortune to know of her, certainly here in the UK, they may well have first come to do so through her work as lead vocalist with the highly acclaimed British jazz/funk/R&B band Incognito.
This is work she gives great gratitude for, which came to her after a rather swift transatlantic audition over the phone. Her subsequent pretty much instantaneous and nervously naive arrival into the UK was retold with brilliant wit in the aforementioned concert. Something that only really comes to the fore when seeing her live is that Maysa is not only an incredible singer but also a fantastic raconteur – with charm, humour and a soul-bearing truth as equally captivating as the songs she subsequently elicits following each monologue. In her own words:
“I am a storyteller, a counsellor and a friend that helps others through the good times and bad through my music. It’s important for me to connect with the audience because it’s my God given job.”
Prior to making that career-affirming trip to these shores with Incognito she had spent a year touring with Stevie Wonder, whom she met whilst still a student at Morgan State University, which she graduated from with a degree in classical performance having trained as a mezzo-soprano.
Interestingly, of the many memorable tracks Stevie Wonder has given the world there is the positive-vibe of Don’t You Worry ’bout a Thing, taken from his 1973 album Innervisions, and this was subsequently covered as part of Incognito’s 1992 album Scribes, Tribes & Vibes, featuring Maysa’s debut with the band.
Now, before I continue, I must please make mention of the artist who was on prior to Maysa, a young woman whose candescence has to be in assured ascendance.
As I wrote on my facebook music page ‘The G Spot’…
I had the joyous honour of seeing Debra Debs earlier this week. I could begin a long list of high-praising superlatives at this point, so instead, as a friend remarked: “It is amazing when a singer is even better live.” When you immerse yourself into her tunes, you’ll see the power in that statement of truth.
I wrote one of my ‘spotlight’ pieces on her album LifeCycles earlier this year, the link to which is at the foot of this article. I strongly recommend making a purchase
To return then to the ‘now’, and Maysa’s newest album Blue Velvet Soul, which has garnered considerable acclaim, not least of which being has her first Grammy nomination for Best Traditional R&B Performance earlier this year for the song, Quiet Fire, her stunning interpretation of one of the last compositions by Johnny Hammond, which was released as part of the Nancy Now album by the legendary Nancy Wilson in 1989.
“Receiving a Grammy nomination for the first time in my 22 year career is incredible and means the world to me, but to get it for a song from my tenth solo CD is even more significant because I struggled to make this record so soon after the passing of my mother, Laura Leak. I truly poured my heart and soul into this record, so this is a great milestone not only in my career, but my life as well. I have been dreaming of and praying for a nomination since I was a little girl. I’m so grateful.” 1.
Blue Velvet Soul also carries the strength of Maysa’s song-writing skills, with eight of the fifteen tracks self-composed. These include Good Morning Sunshine, an uplifting duet with her long-standing collaborator and dear friend Jean-Paul “Bluey” Maunick, founder of Incognito…
…and her beautiful meditative Inside My Dream…
It is wonderful to hear that an artist such as Maysa is gaining more widespread recognition, simply because a gift such as hers deserves to be known by an ever growing international legion of admirers. If it is not yet evident to you, I most eagerly encourage that you become one of that number yourself. Dive head on in to her deep pool of musical delight. Discover those tracks that speak something to you for, undeniably, they will.
And should you ever find out that this lady is singing live somewhere, anywhere… that you can get to – go. Without question – GO.