If Maxwell were a track star, he would prefer distance running over sprints.
In his two-plus-decade career, the velvety-voiced neo-soul singer has not made music for the acclaim, fame or money — though he’s earned all three. Maxwell’s done it thoughtfully, in hopes of achieving timelessness. That much is evident in the pace at which he issues new music: In 23 years with Columbia Records, he has released only five studio albums.
With an album release rate that would push most artists into obscurity, the three-time Grammy winner has managed to add to his allure.
“I feel like the people who come to see the shows that I have been a part of, they’ve been rocking with me for a long time,” Maxwell said during a recent interview. “A lot of people that come check me out have listened to me since they were in college. They have children. Their children have children.”
On Saturday, June 10, fans new and old will have the opportunity to check him out on Long Island at the renovated Nassau Coliseum. He’s promoting last year’s “blackSUMMERS’night” album — the second installment of a trilogy that began with 2009’s “BLACKsummers’night,” which took several years to produce. (No one knows when the concluding “Night” will see daylight.) Ledisi will serve as opening act throughout.
Since his 1996 debut, “Maxwell’s Urban Hang Suite,” the 44-year-old, born Gerald Maxwell Rivera, has embraced classic soul. Maxwell, along with D’Angelo and Erykah Badu, has long been credited with helping shape the “neo-soul” movement that emerged in the late 1990s. That genre fused elements of R&B, classic soul, hip-hop and jazz. Maxwell’s million-selling debut album reached commercial success on the strength of its second single, “Ascension: Don’t Ever Wonder,” which remains one of his most beloved recordings.
Even as he sells out arenas (last fall, he shared the spotlight with nine-time Grammy Award winner Mary J. Blige on the “King and Queen of Hearts World Tour”), Maxwell says he has surprised even himself with his success. He can still recall his pre-fame performances that would sometimes draw two or three people.
“I didn’t grow up with this idea that I was this lead singer,” Maxwell said. “I put on a good front, but in my heart, I am this kid that was from Brooklyn that thought that maybe if I work really hard I would be something.”
He’s been regarded by some as a modern-day Marvin Gaye, and his transcendent falsetto has earned him comparisons to Curtis Mayfield and Al Green. “Lake by the Ocean,” the seductive first single off the album “blackSUMMERS’night,” won him his third Grammy and revealed another big influence: Prince.
At the Coliseum show, in addition to his newer material, fans can expect to hear some of his best-known songs, such as “This Woman’s Work,” “Whenever, Wherever, Whatever” and “Pretty Wings,” the Grammy-winning single from “BLACKsummers’night.”
Seeing his music “roll through the ages” has been humbling, Maxwell said. Especially while on tour.
“Music is a platform that changes you, but it never changed what I was inside,” he said. “So, I am still that guy who’s really grateful that people show up.”