In conversation with… Shaun Escoffery

Let me begin by saying, if there is one single tune that so sublimely conjures up summer and the happiness those hazy lazy days carry then it is, undoubtedly in my book, ‘Days Like This’. I’ve heard it countless times, a perennial favourite at the incredible monthly night of groove and friendship that is the legendary London club night ‘Sunday Happy Day’, and I shall never tire of it. It’s a modern classic, crossing generations; it is a blissful holiday encapsulated in song. If music is love in search of a word, then ‘Days Like This’ finds love and names it the exultation of joy.

I can rest easy in assuring you that this track alone would allow Shaun Escoffery to rest back on his laurels as the deliverer of an eternal gem in countless households near and far, not an easily achieved accolade by any means. Of course, Shaun is thankfully far more than a one mega hit wonder. Indeed, the success of this track came right on the back of the 2001 release ‘Space Rider’, which first introduced us, the wilder world, to his masterful vocals.

“I wrote ‘Space Rider’ with Geoffrey Williams and I still love that track. It’s a timeless song and one that I’m very proud of.”

I’ll come to more of his recording in a moment. But worthwhile mentioning is his work upon the stage too, which included a 2007 Laurence Olivier Award nomination for the musical ‘Parade’, and his taking on in the following year of the majestic Mufasa in ‘The Lion King’. These and other roles, along with his recordings of vintage tracks such as ‘I Heard It Through The Grapevine’, where his smokey gravel begins through impressive range to a beautiful falsetto, excelling to easily match the original whilst standing firmly on its own; together these alone place Shaun as one of our leading lights of the UK music scene and beyond.

So now we come to ‘The Red Room’, Shaun’s latest album released in 2014. If you’ve not yet discovered this for yourself, what are you doing my friends, go forth and make a purchase forthwith (and make sure it is the Special Edition, you will not be disappointed with what that brings you). This is for me a true shining moment in his career, a collection of songs that stand rich with their maturity, delivered with such accomplishment of lyric, voice and accompaniment that pulls you in, and grows on you with each listen. Though not to dismiss any of his previous offerings in the slightest way, I was left and remain feeling this is a disc that at last completely and distinctly offers up his talent for our discerning ear; the album we’ve been waiting for him to make. It was Beethoven who said: “music is the mediator between the spiritual and the sensual life.” Shaun does that here.

“It has been a long time since I’ve released a body of work. And for me it’s just been a case of having something to say musically, and having the right elements in place to make it happen. And just enjoying the process of making music and falling in love with the process of making music again. It was a real labour of love making that album.”

Opening with ‘Nature’s Call’, less a call to arms and more a plea for the essential harmony we need to see in those who are leading the more serious issues facing our society and the world at large. I know, sounds heavy going; trust me, it’s a pounding catchy rhythm, along with the (not on the album) Idris Elba’s Ibiza Disco Mix, the two friends going way back.

“Idris is a very good friend of mine. I’ve known Idris for well over 20 years. As well as being a Fantastic Actor is a great producer and musician in his own right. We have worked on a few projects together throughout the years.”

There’s also the sing-a-long anthem of ‘People’ (two versions on the special edition, though here we have the DJ Spen and Gary Hudgins Remix). Don’t get me wrong, Shaun hasn’t gone all pious preacher on us, but as gospel-tinged as this album is he certainly has some important messages to get out there. Personally, I always admire it when an artist sings tale to us that is more than simply regarding the highs and lows of the quintessential affaire de coeur.

These are there of course, and splendidly so. From the dreaming beatitude of ‘Perfectly Good Affair’ to the true growth of the seductive ‘Do U Remember’ and on to the repeating mistrusting headache of the heavily infectious ‘Crazy’.

For any lover of ‘Days Like This’ (who cannot be) comes a captivating acoustic version which allows you the luxury of closing your eyes and imagining Shaun is right there with you jamming out on that massive hit, and once again succinctly focuses you onto what a fine instrument his voice is. This track sees me hit the repeat button often here at musicgspot towers.

Shaun has just finished a sell-out set of dates in London, which I’m gutted to have missed. Maybe I can persuade him to perform a brief set at the aforementioned ‘Sunday Happy Day’ where he is so universally loved. One thing I’m certain of, any chance to catch him live must be a blessing to behold upon one’s soulful ear; and with this proven track record of music thus far, his continued ascendancy in the realms of his artistry is promised most certainly. This will no doubt be propelled further by his forth-coming single ‘When The Love Is Gone’, taken from his next album ‘Evergreen’ which is released in September 2015, including a duet with Joss Stone on the title track. The album, just as ‘The Red Room’ was, is produced by Gil Cang, who is from a family of three brothers all of which are musicians. He has a long history in reggae and credits in the pop world as far reaching as Michael Jackson.

“We hit it off straight away. It works because we have the same vision and it’s all about the music… the rest is history in the making.”

So I await the arrival of ‘Evergreen’ with great anticipation, and trust that it will propel Shaun to even further and greater success.

Let The DJ Play…

SIMMONS & THE SUPERSOUL SESSIONS.

I’ll be getting to the hallowed halls of the SuperSoul Sessions shortly, but first, a bit on the background of the man behind it all, DJ Paul Simmons.

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First and foremost, let me establish that I believe a truly great DJ is an artist in their own right, much as the conductor to an orchestra is. From a mass of literally millions of tracks at their fingertips they select the choicest cuts to blend together in order to make a sublime set that inspires and elevates feeling and mood, or else, in the case of a remix, they add their unique touch to one particular tune in order to breathe a whole new life in it, not only extending it perhaps, but giving it it a fresh edge of rhythm, beat and – as I call it – bounce. Whether the DJ is coming to you from the radio, from a pre-recorded set or live from their ‘pulpit’ within the ‘church’ of a club, any DJ worth their salt is taking us the listener upon a journey that can be as spiritual, uplifting and memorable as any great odyssey can be.

With that in mind then, here begins my first foray into what will become a revisited topic, introducing various DJs to you. My initial guest is my friend Paul Simmons.

In the matter of being a DJ it could be said, albeit most politely, that Paul proved somewhat precocious, since he has been playing records in public since the age of 10.

“I used to play at our primary school disco’s with my friend at the time Lonnie Plunkett, those were the days. However I really started as a professional DJ in 1990 as a resident DJ of a pub on the Old Kent Rd called Webster’s, playing house and techno.”

This has led Paul on to a career that has enabled him to continually pursue his love of music, travelling worldwide to entertain the masses, including global tours with the Salvation group and a period residing in Spain with two major club residencies, leading to a highlight for him undoubtedly which was playing to a crowd of a (mere) million people at Orgullo Gay (World Pride Pride) in Madrid in 2007. As well as being known under his own name, Paul has also gone under the moniker of DJ Phaze 3, which back in 1994 saw him releasing his first 12″ record (Words Of Wisdom) on his own imprint (State Of The Art Recordings) back in 1994 at the height of the UK Jungle rhythm-as-melody style days and nights. But putting the times of clubbing to a side now, ask Paul what his dream job or gig is the answer is straightforward:

“I have always wanted to be a presenter on a radio network, playing and sharing the music I love.”

Given not only his vast seemingly never-ceasing knowledge of tunes but also the fact that Paul possess a smooth and soothing rich baritone voice this progression seems entirely as it should, he’s a natural as one would say, and it is to Sparkle Radio.net’s luck and joy perhaps that such a golden asset such as Paul has not been prime plucked by the BBC for their own gain.

Before I go on to the SuperSoul Sessions themselves, one question I always ask my interviewees is who has or continues to inspire them in life. Paul’s answer is one you hope can pour from every son’s lips:

“Simple question to that answer really, my Mother. Watching her raise my sister and I, and being the glue that holds my family together no matter what the problem, my Mother has the ability to keep calm when everyone else is loosing their heads and thus always finds the best solution. An amazing lady my love and respect for my Mother is unparalleled.”

Someone unknown once wrote: “Mothers hold their children’s hands for a while but their hearts for ever.” Certainly true in my case, and clearly so with Paul too.

So, the SuperSoul Sessions. Established in 2015 the shows are via Sparkleradio and collected at Mixcloud for future listening have been building a steady following ever since their arrival.

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Amongst the ears of discerning listeners are the likes of luminaries such as Jocelyn Brown and Patrick Adams, so that alone would tell you he is doing something good. That should be GOOD in capitals, because what Paul never ceases in doing is delivering a rich feast of the finest funk, decadent disco and blissful boogie; well-established classics sandwiched between the majority which are rare cuts and glistening hidden gems that only a true aficionado and maestro could amass. It is a true treasure house of uplifting delights. What follows gives an indication of that.

I went on over our chat to ask Paul some more-or-less impossible to completely answer questions, simply due to what is an ever fluid love of music, but it brings up some colourful choices none the less. Firstly, I asked him to name just three music artists that he loves:

“James Brown, probably my favourite artist of all time simply because he invented Funk. Without him and the band he had, nothing I play in any genre would be as it is today.

Roy Ayers. Just simply a musical genius, everything he touches is sublime from his Early Jazz pieces right through to his disco and funk extravaganza, just everything on his record label Uno Melodic is a classic. This cat has so much Funk running through his veins.

Patrick Adams. He is, in my humble opinion, responsible for some of the most amazing music ever made. The disco records he has written, produced and recorded are revered by every record collector and music connoisseur for the genre, and his knowledge and talents stretch much much further than just disco. He’s a Genius, and I love him dearly.”

I then asked him to name but three tracks of any genre that he could list as all-time favourites.

“I can’t answer this question, for the simple fact there are too many pieces from too many genres that have moved me deeply for different reasons in some way. I can give you three pieces that have me hooked at present but these are not exclusive and by no means favourites of all time as that is forever changing.”

Lisa Richards: Hooked On Your Love
Sylvia Striplin: Give Me Your Love
Bo Kirkland & Ruth Davis: You’re Gonna Get Next To Me

And then just three that would make a SuperSoul Playlist:

Mr Magic: Potential 1980
Funk Deluxe: This Time
Donna McGhee: It Ain’t No Big Thing

A fine selection of tunes indeed, as any avid listener to the SuperSoul Sessions would know you’re going to discover. I heartily recommend joining him live every Tuesday from 18:00/20:00 GMT 13:00/15:00 CT on http://www.sparkleradio.net, or catching up on past sessions via Mixcloud. To paraphrase, take a music bath here once a week and you will find it is to the soul what a water bath is to the body.

Enjoy!

 

In conversation with… Karen Bernod

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Born in Brooklyn, New York, Karen Bernod is by now well-established as an accomplished vocalist, writer and producer in her own right. It is this catalogue of work I now look to. With a three-octave range (in which she seems to have strength throughout) and the most exceptional phrasing she can also play the piano by ear.

Even if you are not familiar with her solo work it is perhaps assured that you are not hearing Karen Bernod for the first time, given her extensive and impressive vocal harmonies with the likes of Chaka Khan, Luther Vandross, Whitney Houston and Erykah Badu to name but four. Indeed, it is two of these artists she refers to when I asked her about just two of her most inspiring moments.

“Oh Yesssss, ok so I was singing with Chaka, we were in Europe at the Pori Jazz festival in Amsterdam (love that place). We’d had a rough day. You know jet-lagged and everything. However when Chaka sings Everlasting Love she starts singing really low… then she goes to the middle part of her voice. Then she takes you to the sky, like an EARGASM. We the background singers, well we had some type of epiphany because WE SAAAAAAAAAAANG that nite. More so than before. And it was a beautiful Spiritual energy on stage, as if God came down and sat in the wings to watch us use the Gifts he blessed us with. Let me tell you, the audience went up in a roar. Then after all of that she gave us all solos. Well I don’t have to tell you WE took our 15 minutes… and Slayed em’ in Amsterdam. We are still taking about that nite. (sigh, as I reminisce on the Bliss)…

…Then I can remember being in London with Erykah Badu. On the “On ‘n’ On” Tour. She had just released her new Album. It was packed and people were ready to see the woman from Texas with the Head wrapped and strapped. Well once again it was an awesome show. After, backstage, a young lady (fan) dressed exactly like Erykah, I mean down to the feet, came to our dressing rooms and gave each one of us flowers and a gift. Beautiful handmade Jewelry. I still have it. I thought that was so nice and it gave me a chance to see the Blessings forthcoming for when I stepped out on my Own. And “Here I “Izz”… And I must say it’s a FAB-YOU-LUSS journey. I take my Blessings very seriously and cherish each one…”

WOW! Inspiring energy most certainly. If you’re not yet a fan of her music, whereby you can hear her faith and dedication, you can tell from how she talks it is all there standing tall.

“Music is a universal language, a soothing kind of factor that brings all people together from all cultures and all walks of life under one roof for that moment.” she says.

It is clear from how she continually references her passion and her influences through her music that it is indeed her life, done with a spirit that is set to ease and elevate yours even if it is of the most jaded. She is one of that good collective of artists who is heavily based in soul music infused with jazz, funk, R&B and African rhythms to select just a few; neo-soul if you will.

I asked her to name but three artists who inspire her the most:

“Chaka Khan, Because she is every Woman and it’s all in Me. A pioneer, soldier, and Musical Icon who has paved the way for Artists like myself. She is my Mutha, Sista, Friend who has given me great advice. Love her.

D’Angelo, Because he encompasses all of the musical qualities of Quincy Jones. Just to watch him work in rehearsals and on Live shows in and of itself is like a major Sonic high to hear and see. He plays many instruments and his ear is amazing. Love working with him.

Jill Scott, I love me some Jilly from Philly. She reminds me a lot of myself when I see her perform live. When you leave one of her shows you are LIFTED!!!! I always feel like I just left Church or a Beautiful happening of sorts. Her voice is Magic and to watch her perform live is like back in the day like my Mama use to tell me about Sassy Sarah Vaughan. She does a multitude of things with her voice and she can fix a dry wall. Whaaaaat?? Yeah, my kinda Gurrrrl!!”

Somewhat removed from this realm of sounds however was with one of Karen’s first accomplishments, co-writing and singing on the club classic ‘Motherland’, a heavy Tribal House monster released by Pow Wow Records and other labels in 1990.

Following this, whilst on tour with Erykah Badu (“Sister Karen, your voice is so divine.”), she was invited to join the impressive Incognito collective, whereupon she added her vocals to their album ‘No Time Like The Future’ on the tracks ‘Marrakech’, ‘More Of Myself’ and ‘Yesterday’s Dream’.

It was in 2000 that her debut album ‘Some Othaness for U’ was released. It had been worth the wait. A delicious collection that is both vintage and neo-soul, it has become something of a classic here at musicgspot towers, a good way to introduce her to the uninitiated ear, enthusing you with her musicality and spirit. She’s certainly got me in ‘The Pocket’.

Next up was her sophomore release ‘Life at 360 Degrees’, a mastered cheery wide-ranging divinity encompassing Neo Soul, Acid Jazz, African Beats and more besides. Celebrating love – of one, of many and of music in general – it is a defining statement that surely should place her on high with those more famous artists she holds such a good reputation for working alongside. As one reviewer on Amazon put it: “There is a certain spirituality in Karen’s voice that I love. She tends to sound like she is speaking to the gods, and they’ve sent her a message to let everyone know that its alright to “do you and be you”.”

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As always with a great album, it is hard to select just one stand-out track, so I’ve gone for just four. Firstly there is ‘Family’, a wonderful tribute to the safe harbour, whoever yours born or adopted may be, tinged with gospel as you might expect on such a subject. Indeed, when I asked who her biggest inspiration was the answer was strong:

“My biggest Inspiration is my Mother Iris. May she rest in Loving Peace. A very strong, gentle, yet courageous woman. She taught me how to stand up for myself and fight for what’s right. She inspired me to continue to pursue my Music because she believed I was put on this earth to be a messenger thru song. She is my infinite Muse. I Am Because of Her… IRIS.”

Secondly there is ‘Dreamer’ because I am definitely one of those.

Next up is ‘Truth Iz’ because I simply bloody love it.

And the last of the four is the sheer fun of ‘Subway Love Game’ because if you’ve ever had this happen (like Barbara Pennington’s ‘I Saw You On A Crowded Street’) you’ll know what a great buzz it gives you, as happened to me just last week.

So then to her latest album, ‘Planting Seeds’, which was released in 2014. A lengthy (but as is often the way with our greatest vocalists, there is no behemoth label supporting her through) yet most worthy wait it was. Since my first listen I’ve had it on regular play ever since. Here she strongly celebrates both African rhythms and all of her other musical inspirations – just listen to the infectiously catchy song of gratitude ‘Soul Pioneer’ to hear this flowing through in a sanctified name-check.

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My next selection is ‘Brooklyn Potpourri’ (both the original and The Drummers Mix are thought of here, so in effect it is two selections), a captivating rhythm of beats and sounds.

Another stand-out track for me is ‘Endangered Specie’ (the ‘s’ consciously absent before someone points out my typo) which samples the bass-line of Donny Hathaway’s “The Ghetto,” and spotlights struggle and stands as her statement of support.

Karen describes the album like this: “#PlantingSeeds is a Musical Journey that takes you to many different exciting places. A look into my more matured life as I have been through some peaks and valleys since my debut in 2000 and my sophomore album in 2006. They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Life has shown me many different sides some good some great some …not so much. This is a reflection of where Life has taken me. In the interim I have been Planting Seeds every step of the way. I am now watering, nurturing and tilling the soil. With the release of #PlantingSeeds, all the seeds will start to Bloom and I will continue to give perpetual care with LOVE.”. (http://www.soultracks.com)

Throughout, as indeed with all her music, is an uplifting message to hopefully raise the consciousness. Mainstream in that it is not, but what bother is that? This album is a rich treasure, a bath of most restorative waters that I highly recommend taking a regular soaking in. The track ‘Higher (Up)’ alone should testify to that.

What’s next with Karen Bernod? Well anyone who does or is now from this piece beginning to admire her musical gift will be pleased to hear the answer when I put that question to her.

“I am actually in the process of releasing a four-part EP series entitled Four Women. Paying homage to the Queen Dr. Nina Simone, it will entail different genres of music as I am a House Head, Jazz Head, Soul Sista that loves all Music. The first EP – Four Women: Side 1 is scheduled to drop on June the 3rd 2016.”

There are also the remixes of her single ‘Spirit’ currently available. Of course, as with many of my favoured artists, I wish there could be a larger output of albums from her good self, but then anyone with an awareness of the music business is well aware of the difficulty in this when you are truly an independent player. The good side of this however is that Karen has never, in my opinion, penned a simple filler or a complete dud; each track being a small masterpiece adding to the whole. May her star long continue to ascend.

I’ll leave the final word to the lady herself: “Take good care and til’ we meet again Stay Blessed… from The Karen Bernod team… Peace n Love…”

Giles Addison

Guess Who Is Back

It has been a year since I’ve written upon this blog. Misfortune and despair hit almighty blows in 2015, knocking me way off course. But I return to set sail with renewed vim and vigour from this date onwards.

So, before I begin this relaunch with any in-depth views, let me look at a couple of musical delights from last year, namely these two albums, both of which I highly recommend a purchase of; aside from them being masterful collections, we need to support our independent artists out there who really do produce work through blood, sweat and tears.

Momentum – Soulpersona.

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That Brighton-based galactic crusader and maestro of music production Soulpersona soared into the charts last year with this class ensemble of essential groove, recalling and thus reigniting the glory days of good soul music. The effervescent radiance of Princess Freesia (her first of two mentions on this very page) is joined here by the accomplished Carl Hudson and singer Pete Simpson to name a few.

Chasing Rainbows – Sunchaser

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The global travelling writer and producer that is Sunchaser returns with his second album of tunes, here featuring the interstellar lyrics and vocals of Princess Freesia, and guests, in a sublime set finely peppered with the beauty of the Baltic Sea. It’s a captivating achievement. In his own words: “Keep your dream alive, connect yourself with spiritual comrades, and never give up.”

Songs I currently have on repeat at musicgspot Towers includes:

Post It – Moca
Party All Night – Leela James
All Eyes on You – St Lucia
Take A Look Around – Two Bears
Sunlight (feat. Years & Years) – The Magician
Oh Lord – Mishal Moore
Liquid Spirit (Claptone Remix) – Gregory Porter

Because it’s always on repeat:

Gotta Hold On Me (That Skatt Thing) – MuthaFunkaz
In vocal jazz I’ve always loved the highly-skilled improvisation of melody and rhythm in nonsense syllables that elevates singer to instrument extraordinaire. It is finely accomplished here by Sheila Ford in this sharp slice of deliciously funky fun.

Beautiful – Peyton
An uplifting piece of Gospel that never ceases to warm me as I silently sing it out to the many wonderful friends I have in my life.

You Know How To Love Me – Phyllis Hyman
One of the most familiar hits from the late, great Ms.Hyman. To be honest, who could ever tire from listening to the many songs taken from her ten albums in a career that sadly ended all too soon; depression is a killer.

Watch Out – Brandi Wells
Another singer here who tragically was taken from us at a young age, this particular tune from her has been, for years now, something of a mantra for me. I love how she scat sings her way out at the end too.

Keep The Fire Burning – Gwen Macrae
I went to see this lady sing live a few years ago at Islington Town Hall. Being that she was by now in her late-sixties one didn’t really know what to expect; what we were given was the perfect vocals of a woman who knew exactly how to take it to ‘CHURCH’ – this track alone was a twenty-minute masterpiece that had the collective singing back to her and wanting to simply smile at and hug everyone – love set the room on fire.

Well, as is said, onwards and upwards. Expect some more from me very soon. May your music G spot be humming and vibrating with sheer ecstatic delight.

Giles

MICA PARIS

POW-Mica-Paris

 

I could start with “no words”, but that hardly makes good grounding for a review of any kind. So, instead, I shall say I had extremely high expectations of, at last, seeing Mica Paris singing live; she didn’t meet that parameter, she surpassed it, in spades. Is this article gushing? Too right it is!

Given my long held wish to see her, since I reviewed her album ‘Born Again’ (the link to that article is at the end of this piece) it could be said that after my six-year wait I would be easily pleased. This was beyond such sentiments, as the lady – undoubtedly one of the best voices the British music scene has ever had to claim its own – proved beyond any doubt that she is not only a powerhouse vocalist, but a woman who knows her art impeccably and is therefore able to move from classic jazz standards on a par with the greats as much as she can funk it out as the South London Old School girl. You know when you feel the music, when it is penetrating your very being, when you are covered in the energy field we call ‘goosebumps’, when you know that were you to look down you’d not be surprised to see your feet were some way of the ground. Mica was giving the crowd in front of her something of joy, of love, of magnificence – and none of them are ever likely to forget it.

A world-class act undoubtedly, though she plays the role of Diva with tongue firmly in cheek, seeming far more an old friend with a commanding wit. Another thing that, aside from her Amazonian beauty, makes Mica stand head and shoulders above the rest is her true versatility when it comes to style of song; Soul, Jazz, Hip Hop, Funk, Dance, Gospel… less a chameleon, more simply and purely an accomplished Maestro (Maestra).

“I come from the church… it was all about your voice, projecting in that place and touching people. I come from that background. You can’t get a better school than that… What do I enjoy most? All of it. I like having the band kick it, then in between I’ll make everything real quiet, just me and a piano, me and a guitarist. I give the audience both.” 1.

She certainly did. As the saying goes “she took it to church!” Or rather, in this case, to the cathedral, a big one, on top of a mountain – as close to the heavens as one can get. In fact, if it was decreed that our best singers were to be elevated to reside as the ancient gods on Mount Olympus, Mica would be known as both Aphrodite and Athene, goddess of them all.

1.

http://www.urbanjazz.org/mica_interview.htm

http://giles-world.blogspot.co.uk/2010/06/being-reborn.html

MAYSA

Maysa-Blue-Velvet-SoulWhen 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.

maysa (1)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.

Giles Addison

1. http://baltimoretimes-online.com/news/2014/jan/24/baltimores-maysa-leak-nominated-grammy-award/

‘Fateful Attraction’ EP

Returning with her first release for 2014 the divine chanteuse that is Princess Freesia now gives us her new EP ‘Fateful Attraction’, which is, once again, masterfully produced by her long-standing collaborator Soulpersona and presented by R&B Moguls. It is sure to inflame her ever-ascending star into further luminescence.

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As is eagerly hoped for and gladly fulfilled upon the first listen, Princess Freesia’s own musical influences shine through, as is her mark. A musical connoisseur enriched by the influences of Rare Groove, Soul, Jazz, Funk and Fusion et al, she describes her musical tastes as “anything with sexy Rhodes, warm analogue drum sounds, a wubby bass line, etheric synthaholics and kitten purring vocals…”.  As ever then, the music here holds an undeniable and graceful touch of the most delicious classic grooves, though just because Princess Freesia is clearly inspired from yester-year in her music this doesn’t make her some retro copycat. There may well be touches reminiscent of earlier decades, but her delectable voice alone claims these tunes as totally today.

This EP is a journey into that eternal experience of yearning love and desire, as the brief to “write something heartfelt about the longing, pining, heartache kind of love” so directed her to. She has channelled such emotions “as delivered by some of my favourite female vocalists from back in the day such as Teena Marie, Marlena Shaw, Phyllis Hyman, Angela Bofill, Angela Winbush etc…”   In short, she’s keeping the finest sounds very much alive, with a fresh Freesian touch.

As was so ecstatically established in previous EP releases ‘The Hoxxy Demos’ and ‘The Lapdancer’ and follow-up album ‘The Rainbow Ride’, her music sees her stand undeniably unique and incomparable. Those distinctive and delicious vocals aside, she also delivers consistently strong with her accomplished lyrics, which are richly coloured with the finest floridity that engages from the off and pulls one ever further in.

Once again Princess Freesia shows her sublime ability to present a collection of tracks that incite a desire to take a sultry walk upon the streets, groove upon the floor, or else to set the mercury rising between the sheets: ‘Do it Baby’ and the more imploring ‘I Won’t Forget’ here confirming the latter there most assuredly. ‘Missing Love’ is hauntingly beautiful, a true classic with the musical backing and the way it really allows for her vocals to soar on high reminiscent of the late, great Roberta Flack.

This is not simply a soundtrack to seduction or sorrow-tinged hearts however, with tracks such as ”I Am Still Young’ calling upon love as a sort of prophetic self-empowerment. As such, they are very fine words to finish here with: “I’ll take it higher, I will inspire, I will take it further than you ever wanted to believe it, I will solve the mysteries of what is wrong and what is needed. Never underestimate the power of a single person – Little things become the biggest power for the every person.”

 Giles Addison

‘Fateful Attraction’ is available on i tunes; click here for a taster.