A layman’s thoughts on Maxwell’s BLACKsummers’night

Many moons ago, when I was a bit younger than I am now, my younger siblings attended high school in Grahamstown, a small town in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. Very much a school town, with Rhodes University at its core, Grahamstown didn’t have much by way of retail. Every school holiday, I would make the drive from Lesotho to pick my siblings up, usually leaving at 6am & spending about 12 hours on the road – 6 hours there & 6 hours back. On one of my many trips, I had a couple of hours to kill, waiting for siblings to be allowed out so I strolled into the local Musica to see what they had. This was around 1996 and as I was flipping through the pile of cassettes (yes, cassettes) I came across a tape by a fellow with a big afro called Maxwell.

I remembered having recently seen his music video for … Till The Cops Come Knockin’ and liking it so, on a whim, I picked up a copy of Urban Hang Suite for the drive back home. I played it, and only it, for the next couple of days, falling in love with Sumthin’ Sumthin’, which still remains one of my favourite Maxwell songs. From then, Maxwell became an integral part of and soundtrack to many a late night. Then he was gone. The music stayed, but he disappeared to wherever it is artists go when they seek to get away from our prying eyes.

Fast forward eight years later. I start hearing murmurings on Twitter about a new Maxwell single Pretty Wings.

Maxwell - 5 09Then someone sends me a link. I watch. I listen. I am hooked. I want more. I phone Sony Music in Johannesburg. I get onto the invite list for the Listening Session to launch the album BLACKsummers’ night in South Africa. That was last Thursday. I have listened to BLACKsummers’ night, and only BLACKsummers’ night, for 3 days now and, as I write this, it is playing in the background. The album is distinctly and unmistakably Maxwell. He may have been gone for a bit, but he has become the kind of artist who just needs to ‘do him’ and he will remain relevant. It is gentle, engaging and elegant. Every song. Track 1, Bad Habits, had me pulling faces in traffic mesmerised by every instrument and every ebb & flow of his voice. And it doesn’t stop.

Yes, I love the album. I am no expert but this is good music. I can’t even begin to imagine what it must sound like live. It’s meant to be heard live. Because he’s taken it to that space. To a place of honesty and purity in creation and performance. Others who know better may tell you about chords and notes and …. All I can tell you is ….

When it plays … I want to put the little one to bed early …. turn down the lights …. dance around the living room with the missus …. and …..

Or …. get a babysitter…. book into a spot somewhere …. with a fireplace …. and ….

(and that’s not my traditional modus operandi)

Maxwell - 3 09Every time I decide that one song is my favourite, another one comes on…. though … Bad Habits, Help Somebody and Fistful Of Tears tend to be repeated a lot more. And Pretty Wings? It keeps getting better every time I hear it.

The only disappointment is that, with 9 songs, of which the last, Phoenix Rise, is only 2.41min, it feels like there should be more. Also, the album itself only runs for just over 37minutes.

You’ve probably already heard how BLACKsummers’night is the first instalment of the BLACKSUMMERS’NIGHT trilogy with blackSUMMERS’night and blacksummers’NIGHT expected in 2010 and 2011 respectively. Hope the concept works.

For now, I will continue to submerge myself in the very beautiful BLACKsummers’night. A return to what soul music is. A return to a gentler, more open, more musical space. A refuge from the sex-driven and orgy-filled ‘music’ that seems to be the order of the day. Others have kept that space slightly open, Maxwell has just thrown the door open.

No, they aren’t paying me to say this. Get yourself a copy, if you haven’t already. There is a Limited Edition Deluxe CD/DVD with videos of old & new songs which is a nice to have, but it is still to hit Mzansi’s shores.

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