For R&B fans of a certain age, Maze featuring Frankie Beverly represents sophisticated grown up R&B from a time when soul music was pure and rap free. That might sound like a geezer’s protest, but there’s no denying that Maze along with the Ohio Players and Earth Wind and Fire represent a sweet spot in the history of R&B music. As a kid I would associate the music of these groups with rich and smooth melody and rhythm structure that’s all but extinct today.
For Maze, their sophisticated musical approach no doubt came from being in the San Francisco bay area. Their music was not fully embraced by the teenage version of me. That might explain why at the time older people seemed like the ones most excited about Frankie Beverly concerts when they play the Greensboro Coliseum back in the day. It would be years later after my new wave, goth and indie boy phases that I would fully realize how special Maze featuring Frankie Beverly was. Of course by that time, I become one of those “older adults”. A good groove is eternal and you don’t need to be pushing 40 to realize that, just ask the DJs who sample the Maze back catalog.
Maze’s actual discography begun about the time I became seriously aware of music in the late ’70s. They quickly became a staple on black radio stations and occasionally charted on the fringes of the Top 40 pop charts. Musically they never strayed too far from their quiet storm brand of R&B laced with funk.
The height of their commercial success came with 1985’s “Can’t Stop the Love”, but they were at their very best a few years before – those years when only a subset of soul fans in the black community knew who they were and followed them religiously. Their fourth album We Are One is a great example of this sweet spot in their discography.
We Are One was unusual in many ways. It was a concept album built around the themes of love and compassion. The soft and dossal nature of the songs were relaxing, especially against a full house of multiple guitar, keyboard and drummers.
The happy bouncy nature of songs like the title and “I Wanna Thank You” have made this album one that many quiet storm hours still feature today. When I think of old school, the songs of Frankie Beverly from this album come to mind. Every song manages to be interesting with various takes on Frankie Beverly and Wayne Lindsay’s unusual keyboard playing. Sometimes brash and funky as on “Right on Time” or just quirky on “Metropolis” this album stands out.
“Metropolis”, a track placed at the end has an almost Kraftwork-like keyboard rift with sharp melodies that sound like high pitch robots singing. Despite it’s metallic intentions, it’s warm and organic like the more contemporary R&B being made by bands like Klymaxx and Midnight Starr.
Although considered “Old School”, Frankie Beverly featuring Maze could school nearly any of today’s so called performers.