Contempoary jazz fans may know singer Maysa best from her guest turns with Incognito. However, she has also recorded stellar solo albums that showcase her honey-dipped vocals. Mixing jazz with contemporary R&B, Maysa's unique voice demonstrates her versatility and warmth. Her 2008 album Metamorphosis exemplifies her sophisticated style, most notably with the track "Higher Love."
Originally from Baltimore, Maysa (nee Leak) earned her first big break after auditioning for Steve Wonder's backing group Wonderlove. She appeared on Wonder's soundtrack to Spike Lee's Jungle Fever, and toured with the group to promote the film. In 1991 friend Steve Harvey, a producer, recommended her to Jean-Paul "Bluey" Maunick," co-founder of the UK acid jazz band Incognito. She relocated to London to record Incognito's Scribes, Tribes & Vibes album, and sang on the lead single "Don't You Worry 'Bout A Thing": a Wonder cover, appropriately. Finally she achieved some notice in the U.S. with Incognito's 1994 urban contemporary hit "Deep Waters." Soon she found herself embarking on two careers: one as a lead vocalist with Incognito, the other as a solo artist.
Maysa's self-titled debut album, released in 1993, spawned the minor hit single "What About Our Love." Throughout her career, she has found greater success in the UK, with discs such as All My Life, Out of the Blue, and Smooth Sailing faring well. Metamorphosis, her 2008 effort, signaled a change in that it featured mostly original songs with few covers. Here she came into her own as a composer, although rising R&B star Ledisi also contributed a track ("Walk Away"). A mixture of contemporary R&B and jazz, Metamorphosis contains sensual tracks, including the Brazilian-tinged "Higher Love."
While smooth jazz figure Najee plays flute on the track, "Higher Love" resists over-polished production. Najee's flute soars throughout the track as Nick Colionne gently plucks his acoustic guitar. The samba gives way to her deep vocals: "I will wait for a higher love / Kind of love from up above," she croons. "I wanna feel something I've never felt before / I want a love to take me to that higher place / Where I soar above the clouds / Kind that takes me away." She wants to experience "something I've never felt before," and the listener senses she is referring to more than romantic love.
Where she really shines is during the bridge and toward the end, when she scats along with the guitar. Few R&B artists can convincingly execute scatting, but Maysa successfully does so. The intricate percussion further establishes the Brazilian vibe, and Maysa's joy radiates through her voice. "Higher Love" is a welcome diversion, a break from the more modern soul permeating the rest of the album.
Britain has always embraced American R&B artists, and helped create the acid jazz movement. America has yet to fully catch on, but Maysa serves as an enjoyable introduction to the form. After listening to Incognito, seek out Maysa's solo work, beginning with Metamorphosis, and experience why she should receive more attention for her unique voice.