Incognito — Surreal

June 13, 2012

Another one of those three-decades-and-counting supergroups with a recipe for success that few others have mastered, British acid jazz band Incognito, still headed by the gracious and talented Jean-Paul (“Bluey”) Maunick, plows ahead yet again with another blazer titled Surreal. While we’d wanted to review this one as soon as it hit the streets (or sooner), several technical snafus arose preventing that. Still, while we may be late by three months with this one, there is no way I wasn’t going to weigh in on this latest example of how contemporary jazz—especially acid jazz by one of the architects of that subgenre-should be played.

As if the band itself isn’t enough to get your motor running, Bluey again reunited with songbird extraordinaire Maysa and three other stellar vocalists (Vanessa Haynes, Mo Brandis, and Natalie Williams) to sweeten the pot.

The high energy, full-throated nature of Incognito’s brand of jazz has set jazzers and stages and studios on fire with blistering runs and chops, driving rhythms, enticing vocals and melodies, and class since their debut release Jazz Funk. Personnel may have changed here and there, but the electricity that can be felt from this band from the U.K. to the U.S.A. and beyond still remains intact and unmistakable.

The new release opens in appropriate style with the up-tempo lead track, “The Less You Know,” being sung by Maysa with a super-catchy hook and tight horns and smooth backing vocals. The blaze has been lit.

The flame grows as Mo Brandis grabs the lead on a high-steppin’ R&B-flavored “Goodbye to Yesterday,” full of flavor and drive, the ever-present horns knockin’ it out of the park (by the way, hats off to horn arrangers Trevor Mires, Jamie Anderson, and Sid Gould).

Slowing the pace to a sensuous caress, silky vocalist Natalie Williams breathes seduction into the alluring “Above the Night.” A big “wow.”

Reaching back in time for the only cover done here, passionate vocalist Vanessa Haynes does justice to the Queen Yahna funk jam “Ain’t It Time,” taking the tune to another plateau altogether. Well, this is Incognito. Would you expect less?  By the way, the trumpet action is just crazy.

Maysa reinserts her trademark sweet and inimitable style on the mid-tempo melodic “Capricorn Sun.”  Maysa doing Maysa. Need I say more?

All in all, this is platinum Incognito, which is to say it is classic and typical Incognito. Never missing the bulls-eye, Bluey’s eye (and ear) for the perfect formula to complement his signature sound and style is as present here as ever. Success at this level and pace must truly feel surreal.Ronald Jackson 

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