Maysa Leak is an artist who came to my attention after first hearing her expert,smokey alto in the early aughts. The Baltimore native graduated from Morgan State University with a degree in classical performance. She performed in the Morgan State Choir. It was there she met Stevie Wonder,who brought her in to be a backup singer in his late 80’s/early 90’s edition of Wonderlove. She was most prominent on his soundtrack for the 1991 Spike Lee Joint Jungle Fever. She released her solo debut in 1995 as well. While performing with different groups over the years,its a clear memory where I first heard her.
During the same time I was deep into bands like Jamiroquai,discovering Rufus/Chaka Khan,Miles Davis and the jazzy side of funk my mom picked up a CD called No Time Like The Future by Incognito. This is the first time I ever heard Maysa singing on songs such as “Get Into My Groove”,which I’ve already covered here. Her jazzy style permeates much of her life,so much so that she named her daughter Jazz. And that jazzy groove attracted me to more and more Incognito albums over the years. Their 2008 album Tales From The Beach contained one of my favorite songs sung by her on “I’ve Been Waiting”.
Maysa begins the song by saying “if my heart should betray my emotions,I hope you understand just what it is I’ve been feeling”. Following that,a VERY Stevie Wonder like major/minor jazz chord progression played on a high and bass toned Oberheim synthesizer begins the musical end of the song. This consists of a flutter wah wah guiter and light cymbal/bass drums kicking off a thick slap bass line playing along three chords. After a couple bars of that the slow,funky drums come in along with the Fender Rhodes electric piano and Bluey’s liquid rhythm guitar.
In between this refrain,there’s a brief musical bridge which brings in the tight horn charts-which play call and response to Maysa’s vocals. The Rhodes also plays a strong counter melody to this as well. When the chorus comes in,Maysa is multi tracked within a sea of percussive drums,wah wah guitar,dancing horn charts and the even snakier slap bass line. Just before the second round of choruses and refrains,the keyboards take over for yet another short bridge on the outro. The music strips down to its most percussive elements on the final choruses as the song closes out on a breezy Rhodes coda.
One day,I’m hoping Incognito will be somewhat more recognized worldwide for their often ingenious continuation of 70’s jazz funk in the modern age. Again as has been a continuing theme with me lately,this is a complexly arranged composition. The chord progressions and melodic changes,along with the changes in instrumental soloing throughout,make this one of the most sleekly arranged jazz-funk jams of the new millennium. Maysa’s strong personality and determined “grown folks” outlook on sensuality really make this one of 2008’s major jams of the year for me,anyway.
Filed under 2008, Baltimore, drums, Fender Rhodes, horns, Incognito, jazz funk, Maysa, Morgan State Choir, Morgan State University, rhythm guitar, slap bass, Stevie Wonder, synthesizers, wah wah guitar, Wonderlove
Following the post disco freeze out of most soul and funk music in the early 80’s? It would seem that the British music scene really kept the progression of that level of instrumental and melodic eloquence continuing. It can be heard in funk oriented bands of the new wave era such as Englands Spandau Ballet,Heaven 17,Level 42,Duran Duran and,on the rockier side of it The Clash and former Sex Pistol John Lydon’s Public Image Ltd. There was also a strong multi racial jazz based end of this scene that would emerge with Matt Bianco, which originally featured their very soulful lead singer Basia,Sade and Jean Paul Maunik’s Incognito. After a one off recording in the early 80’s,the band didn’t re-emerge again until the 90’s. During this time Incognito helped pioneer with acid jazz fusion of American jazz/funk and house music. At the very end of the decade in 1999,they released their album ‘No Time Like The Future’-featuring the song that really got me deeply into their music entitled “Get Into My Groove”.
Kicking off with a counting down type snare drum,the song goes into what is basically a contemporary hip-hop/soul drum machine rhythm with some beautifully orchestrated,cinematic soul strings. Shortly after these spirited horn charts kick in,along with two prominant bass lines in a wah wah fueled electric solo and a walking Moog synth bass one. After a brief vocalese scat from Jamiroquai front man Jason Kay,Wonderlove alumni Maysa Leak comes in for the lead vocal. She is talking about someone,a politician maybe, who is willing to preach about the woes of the world while taking no specific actions to correct them-asking “tell me how do you change the world if you haven’t got the nerve”. On the melodically ascending chorus Maysa asks this invidual to come and feel her groove,step into her shoes and that to “get into my mind,you gotta get into my groove”. After a consoling and very jazzy bridge,the song repeats that chorus with variations to the songs conclusion.
On a personal level? I feel that the post Columbine/pre (alleged) Y2K world of 1999,one defined by a great deal of paranoia and lack of hope,was in need of “people music” with a message perhaps more so than any other time in history. In America people such as Erykah Badu were beginning to deliver an Afrofuturist musical vibration of their own. But this combination of a former Stevie Wonder singer,along with a British acid jazz band also featuring backup vocals from…the lead singer of the biggest crossover act of the British acid jazz funk scene in America made a bold statement (to me anyway) that the humanistic message of the funk/jazz spectrum was every bit as alive as the music was. And this was sophistifunk at that. Yes rhythmically it actually did incorporate some of the mechanized hip-hop/soul rhythm. Yet the arrangement-with elegantly produced live strings,horns and bass synthesizers gave it that flavor of a fully formed futurist groove,modeled on the EWF/Roy Ayers musical attitude to lead the way into the new millennium.