Incognito | Surreal


Incognito | Surreal
By Peggy Oliver

How does one band with a revolving door of contributors for over three different decades manage to obtain incredible longevity without missing a beat? What has kept Incognito – the multi-cultural, multi-personnel phenomenon that was highly responsible for sparking the eighties’ acid jazz movement – sounding so fresh, remaining so relevant and making it look so effortless? It all lies in the architect of Incognito, Jean-Paul Maunick a.k.a. “Bluey” – the group’s main songwriter and arranger – who refuses to change his musical stripes and feeds off of an indescribable energetic kick from his extended musical family.

Fueled by his inspirations of top American jazz/funk bands like Earth, Wind & Fire and Weather Report, Bluey has surrounded himself with musicians that know how to knock out grooves of all shapes and styles, and lock-in funky yet not overbearing improvisations. The impressive vocal cast includes Maysa Leak (whose jazz and soul mastery is equally compelling), Jocelyn Brown (a veteran of the dance club scene) and pop/soul stylist Carleen Anderson. His long-time collaborators Frances Hylton, Richard Bull, Dominic Oakenfull and Matt Cooper, and a host of former Incognito musicians including trumpeter Chris Botti, know how to make every groove count, whether delivering disco, jazz, funk or soul. The way they anchored those grooves with uplifting lyrics and passionate joy has captivated fans on both sides of the Atlantic. Many DJ’s channeling Incognito’s remix packages unquestionably gravitate to the band’s upbeat, contagious sound. Besides their original material, Incognito’s special touch on cover tunes is just as entertaining, as evidenced by Stevie Wonder’s “Don’t You Worry `Bout a Thing” and EWF’s “That’s The Way of the World.”

Incognito continues to hold strong over thirty years later in the underground jazz/soul market. That groove train anchored by Bluey still rules on their fifteenth disc, Surreal. Once again, Bluey blends a dependable vocal team with the current touring band. Incognito mainstay Maysa leads off with Hylton’s composition “The Less You Know,” her warm voice melting in the steady funk pockets from the brass and rhythms section. Multi-instrumentalist and current male lead vocalist, Mo Brandis, lights up Surreal’s debut single, “Goodbye to Yesterday,” with a suave, tenor voice. The companion video may lack flashy photography and staging, but the radiant spirit between Brandis and the band in the studio is inviting enough to capture the hearts of true groove fans. “This Must Be Love,” where old school and new school connect thanks to Brandis once again in the lead role, is punctuated with pseudo hip-hop drum lines. Vanessa Haynes, who has performed “Don’t Worry `Bout A Thing” in concert with Incognito, provides the power source on this dusty disco groove recorded by Queen Yahna in 1976. Alistair White pumps up the energy further with a tantalizing trombone solo. For a tender, jazzy cool mood, Natalie Williams accommodates nicely with “Restless as We Are” (framed by Cooper’s drizzling electric piano) and the stripped down “The Stars from Here” where the usual upbeat grooves shift to a soft Bossa Nova. The instrumentalists get their fair share of time with two tracks, one being “Rivers on the Sun,” driven by the marching snare and electric piano locking in the rhythm and the brass section etching tight harmonic structures.

Though the aforementioned tracks are the highlights of Surreal, the remaining selections are in no way snoozers. The essence of what makes Surreal tick is Bluey and the other producers’ incredible intuitiveness when breaking down each vocalist’s strengths. Besides, most of the vocal talents on Surreal – already established in the U.K.’s current soul music landscape – are the other reason to enjoy this attractive groove package as only Bluey and Incognito could fully envision. Now that is what I call the ultimate secret of longevity.

Four and three quarter stars out of five.

Peggy Oliver
The Urban Music Scene