Classics: Maxwell – Ascension ((Don’t Ever Wonder) The Tribute (Columbia)
No matter what at the end, I guess Maxwell‘s second offshot from his ‘Maxwell’s Urban Hang Suite’ debut-album pretty much marked an ‘Ascension’ for him. Thus contributing to establish him as an Ambassador of the then up & coming Neo-Soul so to say movement.
I remember how I felt when I first came to hear him live. This during a showcase at the Blue Note in Paris. There (and then) you could already tell Maxwell had something unique. And by that, I don’t only mean his outstanding voice. But also the beauty of the themes he expressed both lyrically and musically speaking. Besides, I guess it’s fair to say the presence of talented musicians, producers and songwriters happened to be pretty much of a help. With the fact of properly surrounding yourself with the right people also being an art in itself at the end.
“‘Ascension (Don’t Ever Wonder)’ sounded more like the feel-good black cookout R&B associated with 70’s acts like Frankie Beverly & Maze than the machine-programmed, sample-heavy Hip-Hop and Hip-Hop/Soul dominating airwaves at the time.” These words by the likes of Jason King on Pitchfork back in September 2018 almost say everything about the impression Maxwell‘s landing left twenty two years before. And probably also about the impact his contribution left in the maturation of the modern groove.
As a matter of fact and with some astonishing natural, Maxwell found the perfect balance. Producing ‘Ascension’ under his Musze extra guise. And co-writing with Itaal Shur along with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. Meanwhile collaborating with talents such as the late Leon Ware and Wah Wah Watson who undeniably brought extra value to the whole. This in addition to Amp Fiddler and Karl Vanden Bossche. Not to mention Stuart Matthewman on bass, whom you might remember for his collaborations with Sade.
Last but not least, I wouldn’t be surprised hearin’ ‘Ascension’ had some influence on Snowboy. And this more precisely when he came to retouch ‘Deeper’ for Lisa Stansfield. As pretty much on Lukas Setto‘s ‘What Turns You On’ too as a matter of fact.
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Brooklyn, NY native Gerald Maxwell Rivera stands among the Neo-Soul icons along with Raphael Saadiq, D’Angelo and Erykah Badu. The tragic loss of his dad in a plane crash when he was 3 most likely sizzled his temper. Shy, if not introverted, Maxwell built up his own universe. He started composing music by the gae of 17, after a friend offered him a Casio keyboard. A fan of artists such as Patrice Rushen, Rose Royce and S.O.S. Band, he started teaching himself to play various instruments.
Getting access to a 24-track recording studio, he recorded a demo which enegendered interest. Eventually performing soon after at the Nell’s club in Manhattan. With the buzz starting to grow around him, he signed a recording deal with Columbia back in 1994.
From then, Maxwell began recording his debut-album with songwriter Leon Ware and Jazz/Funk guitarist Wah Wah Watson. ‘Maxwell’s Urban Hang Suite’ would hit the streets a year later though. Most likely because of management issues with the label.
Despite a low profile start, the album nevertheless made its path thru the charts. Spawning 4 singles. From ‘Til the Cops Come Knockin’ to ‘Ascension (Don’t Ever Wonder)’ and ‘Sumthin’ Sumthin”. Not to mention ‘Suitelady (The Proposal Jam)’.
MTV soon after offered him to tape an episode of the concert series MTV Unplugged in New York City. This resulting in the release of 7 track EP which included his cover version of Kate Bush‘s ‘This Woman’s Work’ among others.
Maxwell released his second album – ‘Embrya’ – by early 1998. Quite strangely, I gotta say, it received mixed reviews when not heavy criticism in the press. And more precisely the Pop one beginning with Rolling Stone. In other words, those people who always find something to write even though not knowing what they’re talkin’ about! Meanwhile, I couldn’t help enthuzing about the purity of gems such as ‘Luxury Cococure’, ‘Everwanting’ or ‘I’m You: You Are Me And We Are You’.
Besides, I suppose I happened to be far from being the only one. The album selling more than one million copies at the end!
Criticism also welcomed the arrival of his third album, ‘Now’, back in 2001. Which didn’t stop it from selling close to 300,000 copies during the first week that followed its release. It featured goodies such as ‘Get To Know You’,’W/As My Girl’ and a re-recorded version of ‘This Woman’s Work’.
Maxwell soon after totally disappeared from the radars. After a 6 year hiatus, he went back to recording activities back in 2007. Releasing his 4th album, ‘BLACKsummers’Night’ on Jul. 07, 2009, which happened to be successful. It would take him another 7 years before comin’ back with the second episode of ‘BLACKsummers’Night’ on Jul. O1, 2016…
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