Maysa - A Very Maysa Christmas (2014)

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On this most traditional of Holidays, it should be of no surprise that people want maintain a good measure of the tried and true. So while the gifts will be shiny and new, much of what makes Christmas such a special time are the sentimental feelings that the holiday evokes. Christmas is the holiday that reunites family members and friends as people often reconnect with those whom they haven’t seen since the previous December, if not longer.

Those memories and emotions stirred up by Christmas probably explain the endurance of holiday music. Look, songs can mess with our collective heads. Whenever I hear Maze’s “Happy Feeling” I’m always transported back to a simpler time. So while the understandable reaction would be to be cynical when an artist such as Maysa Leak releases A Very Maysa Christmas, she probably enjoy singing “Joy To The World” for the same reasons that we enjoy hearing and singing to tune.

On this most traditional of Holidays, it should be of no surprise that people want maintain a good measure of the tried and true. So while the gifts will be shiny and new, much of what makes Christmas such a special time are the sentimental feelings that the holiday evokes. Christmas is the holiday that reunites family members and friends as people often reconnect with those whom they haven’t seen since the previous December, if not longer.

Those memories and emotions stirred up by Christmas probably explain the endurance of holiday music. Look, songs can mess with our collective heads. Whenever I hear Maze’s “Happy Feeling” I’m always transported back to a simpler time. So while the understandable reaction would be to be cynical when an artist such as Maysa Leak releases A Very Maysa Christmas, she probably enjoy singing “Joy To The World” for the same reasons that we enjoy hearing and singing to tune.

Maysa loves music and she loves to sing. She just happens to be a very good singer. Before Maysa stood 20 feet away from legends such as Stevie Wonder, became a star in her own right as the best known (and in the opinion of many, the best) lead vocalist for the band Incognito, and released a string of acclaimed and award winning solo albums, she was probably singing the songs that she records for A Very Maysa Christmas during her formative years in Baltimore.

Maysa’s mezzo soprano contains a come hither sultriness and an element of jazz that have long served the artist well on secular love songs that have become her stock and trade both as a solo artist and a key member of Incognito, and she finds a few opportunities to use both qualities on A Very Maysa Christmas. A duet with Will Downing transforms “This Christmas” from a celebration of family into a narrative of an intimate night for two. She drops touch of Latin tinged jazz in the one original cut, “It’s The Holidays,” a tune she co-wrote with Chris “Big Dog” Davis. This is another romantic number that finds Maysa deploying her seductively smoky vocals to the theme of connecting and/or reconnecting with the special people – and especially that special person. Her rendition of “Christmastime is Here” maintains the mix of anticipation and melancholy that captures the spirit of the version first heard in A Charlie Brown Christmas. The mini-medley that combines a spoken word version of the Clemet Moore poem “A Visit From St. Nicholas” with Maysa’s soulfully swinging rendition of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” encapsulates the spirit of frivolity, anticipation and fear contained in both pieces, and she proves to be a jazz singer at heart right down to her channeling of a scatting Ella Fitzgerald on her translation of “Silver Bells.”

A Very Maysa Christmas contains a mix of secular holiday tracks and religious numbers such as her midtempo rendition of “Joy To The World” that fuses an R&B instrumental arrangement with a gospel choral arrangement, while “The First Noel” merges a contemporary R&B/hip-hop arrangement with Maysa’s jazz tinged vocals.

So while A Very Maysa Christmas will get categorized as a holiday record, the best compliment that listeners can give this project is that it’s a Maysa album. And that makes for good listening at any time of the year. Recommended.

By Howard Dukes 

 
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