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(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.”

Keep reading:

Review: Maxwell and Jill Scott

Review: Jill Scott at Starlight

Stevie Wonder celebrates Michael Jackson at Starlight

Review: Raphael Saadiq

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(Above: Savion Glover does his thing with plenty o’ swing.)

By Joel Francis

Continuing The Daily Record’s look at the state of jazz today, here is the final of three installments shedding light on 15 jazz greats to emerge in the last 20 years. Note that these musicians are not necessarily the 15 greatest jazz artists to arrive since 1990. A brief listen to any of them, though, should more than persuade the most ardent purist that jazz is alive and well.

Eldar Djangirov

Eldar Djangirov is the continuation of the great line of pianists to emerge from Kansas City, Mo. that stretches back to Count Basie and Jay McShann. The three have more than an adopted hometown in common, though. Although none were born in Kansas City, all experienced significant musical growth while living there. Unlike Basie and McShann, though, Eldar’s formation started before puberty. He performed at a Russian jazz festival at age 5 and at age 12 became the youngest guest ever on Marian McPartlan’s Piano Jazz radio show. Though his latest album is straight-up smooth jazz, Eldar’s earlier work has a breadth that recalls everyone from Ahmad Jamal to Art Tatum. Albums to start with: Eldar, Live at the Blue Note

Christian McBride

Bass player Christian McBride was mentored and hailed by no less an authority than Ray Brown before starting off on his own. McBride works comfortably in the traditional vein on his early albums like “Fingerpainting,” the excellent tribute to Herbie Hancock performed in a bass/guitar/trumpet setting. He gets more funky and touches on fusion with his three-disc live set recorded at Tonic and studio albums “Sci-Fi” and “Vertical Vision.” In 2003, McBride collaborated with hip hop drummer Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson of the Roots and keyboardist Uri Caine for a spectacular collaboration known as the Philadelphia Experiment. McBride has also worked extensively with Sting and Pat Metheny. Albums to start with: Fingerpainting, The Philadelphia Experiment.

Joshua Redman

Expectations have been high for Joshua Redman since winning the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Saxophone Competition in 1991. While Redman hasn’t fulfilled those unrealistic expectations by taking his instrument to the heights achieved by Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane, he has built a strong career on his own terms. Redman’s early quintets helped launch the careers of Christian McBride and Brad Mehldau and his work as musical director of the San Francisco Jazz Collective paired him with legends like Bobby Hutcherson and new artists like Miguel Zenon. Redman’s catalog is adventurous enough to include covers of Eric Clapton’s “Tears in Heaven” with guitarist Pat Metheny and funky experiments that recall Eddie Harris. Albums to start with: Spirit of the Moment, Back East.

Savion Glover

Jazz tap may have died with the golden age of big-budget Hollywood musicals, but Savion Glover is trying his best to bring it back. He has appeared in televised concerts with Wynton Marsalis’ Jazz at the Lincoln Center Orchestra, collaborated with poet Reg E. Gaines and saxophone player Matana Roberts for the John Coltrane-inspired improve “If Trane Was Here,” appeared in Spike Lee’s “Bamboozled” and was a cast member of “Sesame Street.” Glover hasn’t recorded any albums, but his live performances are a potent reminder that jazz isn’t the exclusive province of those with a horn or a voice.

Bad Plus

Combining rock and jazz is nothing new, but the piano/drums/bass trio Bad Plus have done it in an acoustic setting that resembles Medeski, Martin and Wood more than Weather Report. Their early albums were filled with original material that split the difference between Oscar Peterson and Ben Folds, tempered by occasional arrangements of Pixies and Black Sabbath classics. Unfortunately, recent releases have steered sharply away from new compositions and saturated the increasing covers with more irony. While the concept of their newest album – all covers with a female vocalist – makes one wary, their early material should not be overlooked. Albums to start with: Give, Suspicious Activity.

Keep Reading 15 Jazz Greats to Emerge in the Last 20 Years

Part One

Part Two

Five Legends Still Adding to Their Legacies

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(Above: Brad Mehldau performs an arrangement based on Radiohead’s “Exit Music (For A Film).”

By Joel Francis

Continuing The Daily Record’s look at the state of jazz today, here is the first of three installments shedding light on 15 jazz greats to emerge in the last 20 years. Note that these musicians are not necessarily the 15 greatest jazz artists to arrive since 1990. A brief listen to any of them, though, should more than persuade the most ardent purist that jazz is alive and well.

Roy Hargrove

Over the past 20 years, Roy Hargrove’s trumpet has proven to be one of the most versatile instruments ever. He’s equally at home conjuring Cuba on his own or summoning the spirit of African rebellion with rapper Common. Although Hargrove has yet found a way to reconcile his split personalities, he has built a strong catalog. In the Roy Hargrove Quintet, Hargrove works the more traditional mold forged by Freddie Hubbard and Clifford Brown. The RH Factor is the less-focused urban playground where Hargrove’s funky side comes out. Albums to start with: Habana, Earfood.

Brad Mehldau

Pianist Brad Mehldau cut his teeth working with saxophonists Joshua Redman and Wayne Shorter before striking out on his own. His lengthy concert arrangements often leave no stone unturned. Although his classical approach to playing is influenced by Bill Evans, Mehldau has no problem converting songs by Radiohead, the Beatles and Nick Drake into extended jazz workouts and placing them on footing equal to George Gershwin and Cole Porter standards. Mehldau made albums with opera singer Renee Fleming, guitarist Pat Metheny and pop producer Jon Brion without pandering on any project. Albums to start with: Back at the Vanguard, Day is Done.

Madeleine Peyroux

Singer Madeleine Peyroux’s voice sounds more than a little like Billie Holiday, but her style is closer to Joni Mitchell’s. Born in the South, raised in New York and California and seasoned in Paris, Peyroux splits the distance between jazz, folk and pop. Her interpretations of Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan and Hank Williams numbers made her a star on Lilith Fair stages a decade ago and earned her acclaim as the “Best International Jazz Artist” by the BBC in 2007. Albums to start with: Dreamland, Half the Perfect World.

Miguel Zenón

Puerto Rican saxophonist Miguel Zenon recalls the tasteful, silky tone of Paul Desmond. In little more than five years, he’s released four albums, worked as a founding member of the SF Jazz Collective, won the Best New Artist award from JazzTimes in 2006 and named Rising Star-Alto Saxophone for three consecutive years in the Down Beat Critic’s Poll. While Zenon’s horn rests easily on the ears, his arrangements capture the spirit of his native island through insistent originals and unlikely hymns like “Great is Thy Faithfulness.” Albums to start with: Jibaro, Awake.

Maria Schneider

Maria Schneider’s compositions for her jazz orchestra have been some of the most ambitious works in the jazz canon since the heyday of the Duke Ellington Orchestra or Dave Brubeck’s late-’60s expositions. At once sweeping and evocative, Schnieder’s near-classical pieces reveal the deep influence of Gil Evans. The cinematic expanse of her work takes the listener on a journey where everyone from George Gershwin to Gustav Mahler is likely to appear. Albums to start with: Evanescence, Sky Blue.

Keep Reading: 15 Jazz Greats to Emerge in the Last 20 Years

Part Two

Part Three

Five Legends Still Adding to Their Legacies

Read Full Post »