Maze featuring Frankie Beverly is a unique group of accomplished musicians whose music serves as a reminder of why R&B is so special. In the second of their two shows at the Universal Amphitheatre, Maze relied heavily on their trademark brand of silky soul, with mellifluous melodies and earnest audience rapport.
Beverly, Maze’s visionary leader, has managed over the group’s 20-plus years to create a musical style that marries world music-influenced percussion with traditional soul stylings. The group’s singles have consistently appeared on Top 40 playlists, powered by one of the hottest percussion sections this side of Sade, ably led by Beverly and longtime associate McKinley (Bug) Williams.
Against a backdrop of large photos, presumably of band members at work, Maze launched into a melange of songs from their current release, “Back to Basics” (Warner Bros.), alongside “Running Away,””Happy Feelings,””We Are One,””Joy and Pain” and other older tunes.
Possibly the most memorable moment was “The Morning After,” the current single from “Back to Basics.” An urgent but sensuously romantic ballad, “Morning” was the perfect vehicle for Beverly’s alternately gravelly and smooth tenor.
Opener Toni Braxton, given the moniker “The First Lady of LaFace (Records),” fit the evening’s bill nicely — bringing her own brand of cool and sassy music. In certain respects, Braxton’s set was her long-awaited L.A. debut. Many wanted to see and hear the woman whose voice graced the soundtrack of the film “Boomerang” with “Love Shoulda Brought You Home,” and whose debut LaFace Records release is performing well on the charts.
Braxton performed hits “Another Sad Love Song” and “Breathe Again,” which speak about the loneliness of life without love. In a lesser singer’s hands, “Breathe” would seem silly and saccharine; Braxton’s shimmering passion made it poetic. While introducing members of her band,Braxton briefly shared the spotlight with her four comely backup singers, who happen to be her younger sisters. It was amazing to see that much vocal talent in one family.
Overall, the evening proved that there is an audience hungering for music that’s coolly sophisticated and emotionally satisfying, that speaks of things other than violence and negativity … like love.