Before they ran into GangStarr and started incorporating hip-hop elements into their sound, the Brand New Heavies were this retro-groove group with a hipster singer named N’Dea Davenport. Funny thing is, that’s not what I remember them for, either.
As brilliant as she was during an initial too-brief tenure, in particular on the early singles “Dream Come True” and “Never Stop,” I’m drawn more these days to the band’s feel-good jazz instrumentals. When the Heavies stretch out, they still sound like something, well, brand new. And, boy, do they enjoy it, egging each other on, laughing and clapping — like an ageless Blue Note session you’d never heard.
Multi-instrumentalist Andrew Levy, who also produces, helped fashion something that recalled funky fusion sometimes, a new take on contemporary R&B sometimes, and something else entirely sometimes. Along the way Brand New Heavies, released in 1990, helped sell a then-new London-based synthesis, soon known as “acid jazz,” overseas.
Later, after the rise of EDM, this subgenre was absorbed into other dance styles. Yet, there’s no denying the enduring charms of “Sphynx,” which sounds like Stevie Wonder having a talk about spirituality with John Coltrane. “BNH” adds some Blackbyrds groove, then “Gimme One of Those” goes one better: These guys are out Isaac Hayes-ing Isaac Hayes. “Put the Funk Back in It” speaks for itself.
This led directly to popularizers of the retro-groove like Jamiroquai and Erykah Badu who’ve since become more well-known. And, perhaps inevitably, to a reunion with Davenport — whose breathy, romantic “Ride in the Sky” from their debut album remains an over-looked delight. She returned a decade after leaving the band and, together again, the old-school Brand New Heavies returned seemingly unchanged for new studio releases like 2013’s Forward.
Latest posts by Nick DeRiso (see all)
- Nick DeRiso’s Best of 2015 (Rock + Pop): Billy Gibbons, Toto, Death Cab for Cutie, Joe Jackson - January 18, 2016
- Nick DeRiso’s Best of 2015 (Blues, Jazz + R&B): Boz Scaggs, Gavin Harrison, Alabama Shakes - January 10, 2016
- Nick DeRiso’s Best of 2015 (Reissues + Live): John Oates, Led Zeppelin, Yes, Faces + others - January 7, 2016