How creepy is it that one of R&B’s essential functions is to record songs to fuck to? Yes, that’s a stoned, 3 a.m., sitting-on-a-Doritos-laden-couch sort of pitch, but think about it. One can imagine an underground meeting of the mayors of the nation’s busiest cities, manufacturing soundtracks to solve the perennial no-thank-you of hearing your roommates going at it.
Creepy or not, there’s always been a place in pop music for these boudoir crooners. While some chart higher than others on the Creep Index — R. Kelly, Rick James — the role has been a creatively and commercially successful one since the days of Marvin Gaye and Curtis Mayfield. Voodoo, D’Angelo’s 2000 opus considered the form’s high water mark, is pushing 2 million units sold, with millions more plays per song on each of the major streaming services. People have sex to this record a lot.
On the current roster of bedroom singers, Maxwell represents the outside bet. He’s not as futuristic as Miguel, not quite as tantric as D’Angelo, less mysterious than Frank Ocean and is way less creepy and less prone to major hits than R. Kelly. But Maxwell is endlessly tasteful, touching on love and lust without sounding overly sappy or horny. On his new album blackSUMMERS’night, Maxwell lays out an elegant, funk-laden understanding of R&B — the undressing after an evening of black tie parties and bar tabs that look more like rent checks.
To his credit, Maxwell may be the only artist to ever name a new album just changing the capital letters of an old one. The new blackSUMMMERS’night is a marked improvement over 2009’s BLACKsummers’night, more composed and sure of its risks after seven years of gestation. Rooted in jazztronica and porn-funk, some of Maxwell’s prior endeavors can sound a bit elevator-y at times — granted, that’s a very sexy and soft-lit elevator.
A Yogi Berra truism no doubt, but, in R&B, the band makes the music. And Maxwell’s band on this fifth record makes the night come alive. Pianist Robert Glasper leads the ensemble, lending his Grammy-winning sensibilities in hip-hop and jazz. The rhythm section pauses and drives forward with creativity and unpredictability, lending an edge of the avant-garde to Maxwell’s smooth, warm falsetto. Trumpeter Keyon Harrold and saxophonist Kenneth Whalum III provide a horn section that refuses to fall into background harmony, taking instrumental leads with acuity and grace. When Maxwell delivers on date night at the Majestic, you can thank the band. $45-$115, 8pm, The Majestic Theatre, 224 E. Houston St., (210) 226-5700
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