Classics: Maxwell – Sumthin’ Sumthin’ (Columbia)
The ‘Maxwell’s Urban Hang Suite’ album made quite a stirr when it came to the surface back in 1996. And most likely because of comin’ up as a breathe of fresh air in the middle of a mainstream American R&B scene under the domination of over produced formulas.
Just like the Brit-Soul a few years earlier, it sounded so fresh if not natural. With just what it takes in terms of arrangements to leave space for Maxwell‘s outstanding voice. Eventually reminding of the late Marvin Gaye at moments.
Co-written with Leon Ware (himself remembered for his collaborations with Gaye), the mellow groovy ‘Sumthin’ Sumthin’ is the third single taken from the aforementioned. Eventually given an alternative version included in the Soundtrack to the 1997 Theodore Witcher directed ‘Love Jones’ film…
– 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 dispappeared 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…
– A native of Detroit, MI, Leon Ware has left some indelible trace in the history of contemporary music. This, as a songwriter and/or composer. But also as an artist on his own rights, in a period that covered no less than five decades. From the early 70’s to the 2010’s.
Crafting music was just in Ware’s DNA as a matter of fact. With the latter appearing as a member of vocal group the Romeos in his teens. Meanwhile sharing the bill with Ty Hunter, who was to become a member of The Originals, and Lamont Dozier.
After a short period at ABC Records, he started his career as a songwriter for Motown back in 1971. Co-writing ‘Got To Have You Back’ for The Isley Brothers. Then collaborating with Ike & Tina Turner on six songs for their United Artists ‘Nuff Said’ album. Coming to work with Diana Ross‘ younger brother T-Boy that same year, one of the songs they wrote – ‘I Wanna Be Where You Are’ – got eventually picked up by Michael Jackson on his ‘Got To Be There’ album.
Ware wrote for countless artists, and eventually setting up a bigger reputation for himself as an author/composer than an artist. This despite an obvious sensibility. Among the ones he came to collaborate with, Quincy Jones (‘If Ever I Lose This Heaven’). But also Minnie Riperton (‘Inside My Love’). Not to mention Marvin Gaye with the memorable ‘I Want You’. A song Ware initially thought to be included on his second album which sadly flopped.
Ware most likely focused on his activities as a songwriter during the 80’s. Providing material for a whole bunch of luminaries. From Teena Marie to Michael Wycoff (‘Looking Up To You’). But also Loose Ends, James Ingram and Bobby Womack to name a few. The second half of the 90’s seeing him contributing to Maxwell‘s debut-album, ‘Maxwell’s Urban Hang Suite’. Itself considered as one of the landmark albums in the then burgeoing Neo-Soul genre. Remember ‘Sumthin’ Sumthin”? With this bringin’ extra interest to his earlier works by the likes of the Hip-Hop scene.
By 2009, Ware was recovering from treatment for prostate cancer. One of his latest releases was ‘On The Beach’ back in 2011. A jewel he created near his Malibu home with the attitude of Summer with a lyric that continues Leon‘s sensual and romantic allure. No to mention a(nother) top class remixing work courtesy of Atjazz. Meanwhile, he more recently appeared along with Brazilian singer Lucas Arruda. This on the 2015 released phonky cool ‘Melt The Night’ with an XL Middleton remix.
Leon Ware sadly died in Marina del Rey, CA on Feb. 23, 2017 from complications of the disease. He was 77.
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