Maxwell shines in ‘black SUMMERS’ night’

Neo-soul pioneer channels Prince in sensual new album


“I just wanna dance, baby,” Maxwell sings on III, a pulsing track on his new album, black SUMMERS’ night ( eeeg out of four), out Friday. Then, a moment later, he begs, “Let me feel something/More than just an ordinary night.”

There’s the yearning, positivemi­nded duality Maxwell embraced as a leading proponent of what came to be known in the late ’90s as neo-soul. The singer/ songwriter was one of a few artists who channeled the textures and values of a more idealistic era to break through the colder carnality that often prevailed in pop and hip-hop at the time. It’s poignant that black SUMMERS’ night — the second installmen­t in a trilogy that kicked off with 2009’s BLACK summers’ night — should arrive just months after the death of the genre-bending giant who greatly impacted Maxwell, and neo-soul generally. There’s no contempo- rary artist who carries Prince’s torch more conspicuou­sly than Maxwell, both in his singing — grainy and sultry in his middle and lower registers, reaching for delirious depths, but floating to a breathy, fluttery falsetto — and his refusal to see sensual and spiritual fulfillmen­t as contradict­ory goals.

Maxwell’s new album opens, fittingly enough, with a song titled All The Ways Love Can Feel, its brisk, lithe arrangemen­t spiced with funky horns and shimmering peals of guitar. The blissful single Lake By The Ocean delivers a deeper, more insistent groove, as Maxwell pines to “live in a flame where we’ll never burn.”

Relationsh­ips are seldom that simple, of course, as Maxwell, now in his 40s, acknowledg­es. On Fingers Crossed, his voice is raw with urgency as he chases a wary lover over charging piano strings, pleading, “If you get the courage baby ... Maybe your love was just a world away.”

Gods offers a more somber assessment of a love gone wrong, and affirms Maxwell and longtime collaborat­ing producer/ writer Hod David’s affinity for sprinkling electronic accents into spacious, organic-sounding tracks. (In III, keyboards serve a very different mood with a brighter foundation.) The ominous, bluesy Lost wears its darkness in the form of wailing guitars and darkly buzzing, swelling strings. But the overall tone on blackSUMME­RS’ night is still one of hope and gratitude. If Maxwell seems to approach bitterness or desperatio­n on the previous two songs, he never succumbs to them, or tries to drag his subject down. At once meditative and playful, sexy and sincere, the album proposes that romantic love can grow even more intense, and rewarding, with time.

“There’s no song that defines it,” Maxwell sings over lush strings on the twinkling, beatific 1990x, adding, “There’s just you and the moment ... Let’s ride the galaxy and find who we are.” Judging by the evidence here, that curiosity and optimism should carry over to his creative journey as well. Download: Lake By The Ocean, Fingers Crossed, 1990x

 ?? CHRISTIAN HANSEN ?? blackSUMME­RS’night is the second in a planned trilogy.
CHRISTIAN HANSEN blackSUMME­RS’night is the second in a planned trilogy.
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