(Above: The video for “Pretty Wings,” one of the biggest songs to come off Maxwell’s latest album.)
By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star
When Maxwell released his first album in eight years last summer, he planned on making up for lost time by hitting his audience with three albums over a short period of time. The fans, however, had another plan. “BLACKsummer’snight” debuted at No. 1, spawned two singles that stayed on the charts for 46 and 47 weeks, respectively.
The assuring everyone “I’m back for good,” the follow up album is ready. Now Maxwell’s waiting for the excitement to die down.
“This (new album) will be the second in a trilogy,” Maxwell said. “They were going to come out in succession, but then the first one created this response. We’re waiting for the people to tell us when they’re ready.”
The soul man mapped his return cautiously, playing the Uptown on the first leg of his tour in the fall of 2008. By the time his show reached St. Louis a year later he was playing arenas and had two sold-out nights at Madison Square Garden under his belt.
“Honestly, I like the intimate settings better,” said Maxwell, who celebrated his 37th birthday on May 23. “People can hear us better and see us better. But because of the success of the record, I’d be in every town for two weeks if I did that.”
When Maxwell plays Starlight on Sunday, he will bring Jill Scott, one of the singers who blossomed during his time away.
“She is absolutely amazing,” Maxwell said of Scott. “Apart from the music, she not only has the most beautiful smile but the biggest spirit. She typifies soul right now.”
Maxwell said his set is “very different” from previous tour legs. The stage has been redesigned by Roy Bennett, who came to Maxwell’s attention through his work with Nine Inch Nails and Rammstein.
“His ability to design is stellar. We’ve got great video and lights,” Maxwell said. “More importantly is my band. These musicians could stand out in front of a cloth.”
The ten-piece outfit includes several artists who have made names for themselves in the jazz world, like pianist Robert Glasper and bass player Derrick Hodge. The pieces of the ensemble started falling into place when a friend introduced Maxwell to Chris Dave. Dave’s impressive resume includes collaborations with Mint Condition, Meshell Ndgeocello, Pat Metheny, Kenny Garrett.
“Chris is just an incredible drummer. He knew the person who introduced me to the horn section, and the band kind of evolved from there,” Maxwell said. “I won’t say it was happenstance, because I do believe in destiny, but it came together very organically.”
The musical landscape Maxwell re-entered is markedly different. Labels are failing and artists are selling fewer albums and, as a result, generating less money for both themselves and their label.
“It hasn’t been a problem for me, which is incredible,” Maxwell said. “We just added the fourth leg of the tour and I’m getting better album sales than I’ve ever had. I’ve been pretty – and I hate using this word, but – lucky. Blessed.”
For Maxwell the comeback is over. He’s returned and conquered, and now he’s ready to move on. Worn down by being asked why he voluntarily dropped out of sight so many times, Maxwell has a simple, smirking answer: “I like Seinfeld.”