Soul’s very own Frampton Comes Alive!, which broke Maze to new audiences.
Daryl Easlea 2012
Bay Area combo Maze, led by Frankie Beverly, had released four albums by the time it was decided to capture the group’s infectious live show on record. Their message of global love and unity, so apparent in studio work, worked wonderfully on the road, leader Beverly cast in the role of a travelling preacher with his committed choir. New Orleans falls quickly under the group’s spell: "I know y’all can sing," the frontman cries, continuing: "This is the place, y’all. Why do the live album in New Orleans? Why not, ya dig?"
Recorded in November 1980 at the city’s historic and then recently renovated 2,700-capacity Saenger Theatre, this recording positively crackles with life. With six lengthy tracks over the original three sides of vinyl, it was largely a showcase for their most recent album, Joy and Pain, and featured four of its tracks. Of the others, Look at California from their 1977 debut is elongated to a swooning 11 minutes – and Beverly’s substitution of Louisiana for the state in its title at its close is greeted with rapturous cheers. Elsewhere, Southern Girl, which could be a critique of this audience as much as the group’s most-recent hit single, funks sweetly and seductively. To complete the package, there are four new studio recordings. They are good, functional R&B, but pale in comparison to the banquet the listener has just enjoyed.
Most of the album’s reputation rests, however, on one track: Joy and Pain. Here in all its full-length glory, its call-and-response vocals and crowd engagement set a template for many others to follow, becoming one of the defining moments in jazz-funk. On this track, it’s easy to see the difference between a live soul album and a rock one: most of the audience’s responses come from female voices, in contrast to the traditional, predominantly male rock crowd.
Live In New Orleans acted as a perfect introduction to the band, and became soul’s own Frampton Comes Alive!. UK audiences were not really aware of the act’s work until this well-assembled double live set put Beverly and the group, like Frampton briefly before, firmly in their hearts. Within a matter of years, Maze would sell out eight straight nights at London’s Hammersmith Odeon – and here’s all the evidence anyone needs as to how they managed it.