Brand New Heavies’ self-titled debut defined a now-lost acid-jazz cool

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.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has explored music for USA Today, All About Jazz and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the nation by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso