Baltimore native Maysa Leak has gained fiercely loyal following over the past decade as one of the great modern soul/jazz vocalists, and her work has been appreciated by millions of others who simply don't know her name. Compared by some to Sade, she is really a unique vocalist who combines a keen sense of jazz phrasing with a gorgeous, deep, soulful voice similar to Lalah Hathaway.
Maysa's first major break occurred in the late 80s, following her graduation from Morgan State University, when she became part of Stevie Wonder's backing group, Wonderlove, and performed on the Jungle Fever soundtrack. Her deep, smoky voice came to the attention of Incognito leader Jean-Paul "Bluey" Maunick, who made her the group's lead singer in the early 90s. Her performances on the group's Positivity and Beneath the Surface were outstanding, as she breathed sultry life into great tunes such as "Deep Water" and "Shade of Blue" and dueted with Mark Anthoni on the group's biggest international hit, "Still a Friend of Mine."
Alternating between London (Incognito's home) and Baltimore, Maysa recorded her eponymous solo debut in 1995 with Bluey's help and scored a minor hit with "What About Our Love." Her second album, All My Life became a hit on the Contemporary Jazz charts in 2000 and she scored even bigger internationally two years later with her Rex Rideout-produced Out of the Blue, which was listed by many Soul and Jazz magazines as among that year's best albums. While her beautiful voice was clearly spotlighted on all of her solo discs, she also showed a knack for choosing solid sophisticated material and the right producers and and arrangers to make all of her albums memorable. Maysa rejoined Incognito and worked on the group's 2004 album Adventures in Black Sunshine.
Working with producers Rex Rideout (Boney James, Will Downing) and Bluey, in September 2004 Maysa released her fourth solo album, Smooth Sailing. Not surprisingly, it was another fine outing that balanced her one-of-a-kind voice with tasty jazz arrangements and solid material. Silkier and sweeter than Incognito's acid jazz recordings, it was aimed right at the heart of smooth jazz radio and boasted solid tunes and playing throughout. And Maysa was in fine voice, absolutely nailing the Bluey-produced ballad "Soul Child" and the midtempo title cut. Even more accessible were "One More Chance" and the album closer, "Unexpectedly," a great cut that crossed the smooth jazz line and moved into UAC territory beautifully.
She followed it a year and a half later with Sweet Classic Soul on the Shanachie label, an album of covers of 70s and 80s soul classics. It was warmly received and set the stage for a sequel, Feel The Fire, which was released in 2007. The latter won for her a much deserved Female Vocalist of the Year trophy at the 2007 SoulTracks Readers' Choice Awards, at which she gave perhaps the most memorable acceptance speech of the evening.
Maysa returned in 2008 with the excellent Metamorphosis, a disc of new music and one of her finest solo performances. She continues to tour the country, headlining multi-artist jazz shows and also singing in clubs. She followed in early 2010 with the fine album A Woman In Love, which featured both new material and covers of several jazz standards. In November of 2011 she will be issuing what she feels may be her best album to date, Motions of Love.
By Chris Rizik
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