Release Date:
October 14, 2008

Reviewed by:
Shannon West

Serendipity occurs in fascinating sequences of events. I picked up the new issue of Oprah's magazine and read a piece by Pam Houston, one of my favorite writers, about a series of events that happened in her life and left her feeling that even in the middle of whatever day-to-day messes she had to wade through she was being watched over and everything was going to be all right. Then I grabbed my iPod, set Maysa's Metamorphosis to play straight through, took my Big White Dog for a walk to a marshland close by and saw a tree full of Egrets - a graceful white bird whose appearance has always seemed like a calming tap on the shoulder from the Universe. About 15 of them were perched on the winter bare branches. The winter sunset was reflected in the creek and Maysa's "Sympatico" was stuck on repeat. Just perfect.

"Simpatico" and "Happy Feelings" are Maysa's latest additions to the wonderful thread of songs that have defined the place where R&B and Brazilian flavored contemporary jazz intersect and take off to an entirely new place that goes all the way back to tracks from  Flora Purim's early solo projects, Jarreau's This Time, Dianne Reeves' stunning debut Sky Islands, and her own work - Incognito's "Colibri" and "J.F.S." from her first solo CD. Hearing songs like this and the similar themed "Happy Feelings" reminds you that the good stuff is timeless and never goes away. Songs like this just transport you and her voice envelopes you with such a sense of spirit and ease that hearing it takes you out of your everyday world. That's why calling her voice merely "sensual" or relegating her music to the soundtrack for late night encounters does her a great disservice. Sure, there is sensuality there, but it's not forced and it doesn't feel like that is her goal the way it does with singers who purr, pout, and sing all over the notes. Her voice is deep, rich, full, and warm. She sings with an economy that is rare these days, she can embellish with the best but she has this instinctive grasp of when to add some drama or showy runs and when to just let that beautiful voice and the heart behind it wrap around a song and deliver it straight between your ears.

Metamorphosis was born out of Maysa Leak's everyday world, a world where she was personally emerging from a painful breakup and professionally wanted to return to recording original music and chase her creativity in some new directions. The result is just majestic. A series of songs that represent the very best elements of every territory she journeys into. There are beautiful R&B ballads and neo-soul variations here - the same jazzy grooves that kept her on the smooth jazz charts before vocalists over 40 with original songs were banished from the format. "Walk Away" is the type of song that Smooth A/C radio should be playing. Written by Ledisi, it has the melody and mood of a classic Vandross song and the mature perspective of someone who realizes that some loves feel good but are just too one sided to salvage. "Love So True" and "Never Really Ever" move further into neo-soul territory with its rawer sound and vocal arrangement. This is not just another R&B project trying to sneak its way onto smooth jazz playlists in between James Ingram and Toni Braxton, though. Metamorphosis explores the places where pop and soul take jazzy turns then veer off into experimentation on those intersections. Nick Colionne's guitar intro on "Lets Figure It Out" clocks in at over two minutes of very cool soloing before the song speeds up with Maysa adding layers of voices - scat, vocalese, and lyrics - over his guitar. "Higher Love" has her weaving her voice around Najee's flute and Colionne's guitar. Then she takes it all the way out to the progressive tip in  "A Conversation With The Universe" - scatting over rhythmic percussion and keyboard lines delivered by Jason Miles and DJ Logic's Global Noize. It's got a groove that makes you want to shake your hips and move around the room.

The heart and soul of this album, the theme that runs through all of this captivating music, is confidence and self-worth that has been tested and strengthened as she has been on the wanting, winning and losing side of love. These songs are about a love that is worth waiting for and a woman who knows her own value and is proud of what she has to bring to a relationship. "Take Me Away" forthrightly celebrates a sensual liaison, "I Need A Man," has her stating clearly that she wants a strong man who will take care of her and be the head of the family. As she unapologetically explains in the song, this is what she saw and respected in her own family, and this is what she wants in her life. That's what I love about artists who are grown folks. They have been through things and can bring that experience and insight into their music. When Maysa sings she takes you from where she's been to where she is and reveals where she wants to be. Chances are, you've been there yourself more than once and the sensitivity and insight within this music can bring both comfort and perspective and perhaps even trigger your own Metamorphosis. Music can do that, you know, and when it makes you want to dance and sing along in the process that just makes it all even better.