It's been seven years since Maxwell released an album; an eternity in pop music years, but a business-as-usual timeline for this veteran soul singer.
The 43-year-old artist has continually risked obscurity by issuing only five albums over two decades. But these long dry spells have only added to Maxwell's allure, and pumped up expectations for each new, often late, arrival.
The long-awaited "blackSUMMERS'night" is the second installment in a planned trilogy that started with 2009's "BLACKsummers'night" (note the lower case/upper case lettering has annoyingly changed from album to album) and it was once slated to arrive in 2012.
Though his new album doesn't make the theme of the trilogy any clearer than his last album did, it ultimately doesn't matter: Maxwell's transcendent falsetto and the soulful jazz, electronic and soul arrangements need no cohesive story line to make them resonate.
The kick-off track "All the Ways Love Can Feel" is a five-minute-plus sleek, beat-driven ballad that reminds us why Maxwell is one of the only artists who should be allowed to pay tribute to Prince (as he did at the recent BET Awards). His voice is fragile and heartbreaking one minute, seductive and velvety the next. While age is the enemy of many singers, Maxwell has clearly become a more complex vocalist since arriving as a neo-soul innovator in the mid-'90s.
From "The Fall" to "Of All Kind" (there are 12 tracks in all here), his voice rides atop a fluid hybrid of ambient R&B, flecks of electronica, retro Al Green-era soul and horn-driven jazz arrangements that are as stealth and sultry and they are quirky and danceable. Notable jazz players on the album include Robert Glasper, Keyon Harrold and Kenneth Whalum III.