Maze are one of the early 70’s Bay Area groups whose sound has really taken different directions as I grew. At first,Maze were presented as a late 70’s band (brought into the music industry at the encouragement of Marvin Gaye) who somehow represent the epitome of anti disco soul music. For the most part,I discovered quite a lot of their music was very bare bones mid tempo and slow jams. And as Henrique Hopkins pointed out,not really related to the musical vitality so important to funk music. As with the very bluesy and folksy Bill Withers before them,Maze come off now as predecessors to neo soul.
What the craggy (and very distinctive) voiced Frankie Beverley and Maze do have is a strong sense of song craft and thoughtful lyrics. Its not a particularly youthful sound though. Its what a lot of people now call “grown folks music”. Rickey Vincent aptly referred to them as a “soul band”. Maze’s lyrical content is generally philosophizing in the manner of an adult whose kind of “seen it all” as they say. Sometimes the mood is joyous. Sometimes somber. And always reflective. A good example of their music that actually got a significant groove going to it was the title song to their 1980 album entitled Joy And Pain.
A Brazilian tingled drum with electronic hand claps start off the song. For the next 1 minute and 50 seconds Fender Rhodes,a ten note bass line,Beverly’s rhythm guitar and harmonic layers of melodic and string synthesizer build slowly into the arrangement before Beverly’s vocals. This represents the main body of the song-save for a bridge where the string synthesizer leads a jazzier melodic movement. On the choruses,backup vocals assist Beverley. All the while with a group of chirping,bird like synthesizers tweeting in and out of the mix. This chorus extends to fade out the song.
As with most uptempo Maze songs,the production is bare bones. What gets me about this song is the electronic touches that serve to give the song some musical life to it. The melody has a lot of jazzy harmonies to it. And the fairly unadorned instrumentation helps accent its vocal/lyrical showcase. Lyrically,this song does impress me personally. Its basically Beverly musing on different variations of the chorus that says “joy and pain are like sunshine and rain”. In the end its not at all cynical because,as it points out,things we love give us so much pain is due to a matter of two sides of the same coin.