Maxwell bumps up the groove at Fraze Pavilion

Photo: Maxwell brings blackSUMMERS’night to Fraze Pavilion May 30; photo: Eric Johnson

By Alan Sculley

blackSUMMERS’night, the second album in a trilogy by soul artist Maxwell has arrived a mere seven years after the first album in the series, BLACKsummers’night.

That’s about par for the course for Maxwell, who over his 20-year recording career has released five studio albums. Part of the reason Maxwell doesn’t crank out albums every other year or so is, in order to bring the proper amount of passion and understanding to his songs, he feels he needs to live some life away from music and have experiences from which to draw in writing his lyrics and delivering his words.

“It’s like, have I lived enough to be able to fully capitalize on the song creatively?” Maxwell says during a recent phone interview. “I look at someone like Mary J. Blige as a very good example in terms of someone who has always made her life reflect the songs and the theme and [the way] she performs to people. And so that’s how my approach is.”

During the course of making blackSUMMERS’night, Maxwell went through some of significant life experiences, including the deaths of his grandmother and a cousin in his 30s, who fell victim to a heart ailment—two losses he has said informed some of the songs on the new album.

But perhaps the biggest life experience for the 43-year-old singer/songwriter. born as Gerald Maxwell Rivera. was reaching the milestone 40th birthday.

“I feel, in turning 40, that was probably the biggest part of the delay,” Maxwell says of the gap between albums. “I can tell you that just being 40, you really start to get such a, you really understand everything that you didn’t understand before. You see what played into everything, what made you feel what you felt, why you were the way you were, why you viewed relationships the way you viewed them, how you idealized them and romanticized them, how you were pessimistic about them, why you were optimistic. All of those things came into play.”

Both BLACKsummers’night and blackSUMMERS’night have seen Maxwell, a lifelong bachelor who says he hopes to marry and raise a family, thoughtfully explore love, and relationships and their many complexities. That’s no surprise for an artist who, with the arrival of his critically acclaimed 1996 debut album, Maxwell’s Urban Hang Suite, began creating some of the era’s most sensual yet intelligent songs about love—and has no doubt provided a soundtrack for romance to many of his fans.

His simmering soulful and richly melodic music and lyrics clearly struck a chord. Maxwell’s Urban Hang Suite established him as a force in urban music, topping 1 million copies sold and helping to shape the neo-soul movement of the late ’90s.

His next three albums, Embrya (1998), Now (2001), and BLACKsummers’night (2009), continued the momentum. All three went platinum, enhancing his artistic reputation.

Maxwell says even though it took years to bring his latest album to fruition, he went into blackSUMMERS’night with some clear thematic ideas and a central musical goal for the album.

“My basic concern, alongside working with [producing and songwriting partners] Hod David and Stuart Matthewman, who have their own take and their own approach, is you know, how different can we make things sound from the last thing?” he says. “Even though it’s my voice and it’s my writing and we do have a sensibility—that of course, is what it is—I always like to push forward sonically, with the kinds of instruments that we use, with the kinds of ways that we approach it.”

To that end, blackSUMMERS’night finds Maxwell mixing things up just a bit musically. His core sound remains very much intact, but along with the expected rich ballads, a few songs (“All The Ways Love Can Feel,” “Lost,” and “Hostage”) bump up the tempos and groove a bit more.

Sonically, the music is a bit more forward looking, with synthetic touches mixed in with the familiar classic soul roots that have always shown brightly on Maxwell’s albums. The result is an album that feels both modern and human.

Maxwell is now in the middle stages of what he expects could be two years of touring behind blackSUMMERS’night. He likes how his show has come together.

“It’s exciting. We take you back in time. We put you in the future,” Maxwell says of his live show. “It’s a fun show. It’s loose, it’s improvisational. I work with the city I’m in. I try to tie in certain aspects of where I’m at within the show.

“We try to do that, for sure.”


Maxwell plays Tuesday, May 30 at the Fraze Pavilion, 695 Lincoln Park Boulevard in Kettering. Show starts at 7 p.m. Tickets range from $46-66. For tickets or more information, please visit or

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