[25 January 2010]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
Once Ella Fitzgerald immortalized the “A” train in that famous tune by Sir Duke, few could resist the idea of shuttling uptown to experience Harlem’s fervent jazz scene. “Take the A Train” is still a beguiling invitation, though heading downtown on the “A” train promises just as memorable a time these days, especially if you disembark at the West 4th street station, one block from The Blue Note.
Everyone from Chris Botti to Rachelle Ferrell to McCoy Tyner to Arturo Sandoval regularly calls this internationally renowned jazz haunt their home. Patrons line West 3rd St. every night of the week and survive any kind of weather to catch yet another artist contribute to The Blue Note’s rich legacy. On a January evening, just past midnight, 200 or so people withstand freezing temperatures to witness one of Manhattan’s most heralded independent artists take The Blue Note stage and record the follow-up to her debut album, This Much is True—which features the Grammy-nominated single, “Wanna Be”.
Less than 20 minutes to show time, Maiysha applies the finishing touches to her ensemble. While she tends to her lion’s mane of hair, two executives from Eusonia Records review a few last minute details. Maiysha takes it all in stride. The band is rehearsed, the set list is perfected, and the show is sold out. All she has to do is determine a way to gingerly descend the staircase in gold studded black boots. “Maybe I’ll pull a Sade”, she smiles gamely, considering the benefits of performing barefoot.
Two minutes past one a.m., Scott Jacoby, President and Founder of Eusonia, is downstairs welcoming the audience from the stage. This concert will comprise Maiysha’s next release. Tonight she will join a list of artists who’ve recorded iconic albums before a live audience, he says. There was Donny Hathaway at The Troubadour, Rufus and Chaka Khan at the Savoy, John Coltrane at Birdland, Aretha Franklin at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church, and tonight, Jacoby annouces finally, will be Maiysha at The Blue Note. Cue applause and Maiysha’s entrance—with boots!—to the stage.
“Thank you for staying up late for me”, she purrs before launching into her blues-inflected take on Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer”. The song establishes the theme for the evening: covers. “Musicians are always asked, ‘Who are your influences?’”, she explains, “so I thought maybe I should show you”.
Ordinarily, the prospect of a covers-only set is dubious, but the opposite holds true with Maiysha. She thrives in the songs of others, rendering the words with the same degree of intimacy as her own compositions. Not only does she cull repertoire from less obvious places, but she completely re-works songs to suit her style. D’Angelo, Kelly Clarkson, U2: everyone is fair game.
“Any Beatles fans out there?”, she asks to the strains of “I’m So Tired”. If only John Lennon were here to this see this: Maiysha marries The Beatles with Madonna, and not just any Madonna, but Confessions-on-a-Dance-Floor-Madonna. “I’m tired of waiting on you”, sings Maiysha. Is this really “Hung Up”, stripped, tossed around, and dressed up as blues-rock?
There’s a thin line between clever and contrived. Most artists often err on the side of the latter but not Maiysha. “I’m So Tired” and “Hung Up” are clever matches as she boldly erases the stylistic differences of the two songs to reveal their thematic kinship. Guitarist Marc Copely emphasizes the agitation shared between the lyrics of both songs by layering some sonic distress underneath Maiysha’s voice. He shreds the fret. “You rock my world”, Maiysha says to the ace axeman. The audience concurs.
Taking a tour through Chris Isaak and Maroon 5, then an interpolation of her own song (“Chase”) into Rick James, she pairs “That’s All” (the Sinatra standard) and “That’s All” (Genesis). “I’m gonna get you warm”, she promised earlier to the audience, still defrosting the January chill in their bones. Later, when she exclaims, “It’s always the same, it’s just a shame, that’s all”, you know she’s thawed the marrow in a few cold souls.
Hearts palpitate during the next course. Her performances of “If 6 Was 9” (Jimi Hendrix) and “What I Am” (Edie Brickell) hardly give credence to that “Urban/Alternative” category the Recording Academy devised to group together artists who confound the Grammy category-makers. However, one word does come to mind: rocker. Jason Patterson keeps the skins scalding hot underneath Maiysha’s torrential attack on the lyrics. There’s even a hint of jazz in her phrasing, categories be damned!
Next up is “Feel Like Makin’ Love”, at least that’s what it says on the set list, which I inadvertently glimpse from my seat. I inherently wonder how she’s going to change it up from Roberta Flack’s original. I could not be more incorrect. Same title, but completely different song. Maiysha and her band eclipse the Bad Company original with their own ferocious version. “Rocker” comes to my mind yet again as the musicians thrash out and sweat trickles down Maiysha’s face. I predict that when this album is ready, “Feel Like Makin’ Love” will get a lot of love on personal playlists.
There is less than a centimeter of space between the stage and the audience. It is almost impossible for Maiysha to exit gracefully and wade through the sea of seated bodies to return for an encore. She assesses the situation and remains onstage. She dedicates “And I Love Him” to the audience, then segues into an extended jam of “You Don’t Know”, the only song from her debut album performed in its entirety that night. Each band member gets a solo, and the spotlight turns to Copely, Patterson, Will Buthod on keys, and bassist Tyrone Johnson. The band’s been in the pocket for the past 75 minutes and here they get a moment to improvise, each in their own distinct way.
“If you missed the introduction, I’m Maiysha”, says the singer before “You Don’t Know” concludes. If you didn’t know, or you weren’t there, you know now. Maiysha at The Blue Note is a thrilling disCOVERy.