Incognito – In Search Of Better Days (2016)

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Coming right off of a rare solo project, Jean-Paul ‘Bluey’ Maunick immerses himself right back into his pet project since ’79, Incognito. Britain’s premiere acid jazz outfit have just released their 17th album In Search Of Better Days (Shanachie Entertainment) and pick up right where they left off with 2014’s Amplified Soul

As someone who was there making soul music in the 70s while staying connected with the currents of music prevailing today, Bluey brings a unique perspective that’s borne out in his music, and like most Incognito albums, In Search Of Better Days captures the vibe from a generation (or two) ago while making it all sound fresh and new. That includes time-honored pleas for more peace, more love and more caring dominating the themes in these fourteen tracks.

Like a similarly crafted Steely Dan album, Maunick works with a small core of musicians — like keyboardist Matt Cooper, bassist Francis Hylton and trombonist/horn arranger Trevor Mires and mixes and matches standout outside talent that fits snugly within each song. Lead vocals, as usual, are handled by committee, a committee of some of UK’s best soul singers in Tony Momrelle, Vanessa Haynes, Imaani, Vula Malinga and Katie Leone. And, once again, Maysa.

The American soul chanteuse Maysa has appeared on Incognito records on and off since 1992’s Tribes, Vibes and Scribes, and her full vocal range (especially in the lower register) can ignite any kind of song Bluey throws at her. “Everyday Grind” marks the return of Maysa’s sultry cooing over this piano-paced mid-tempo ballad. She masters the disco-funk number “Racing Through The Bends” with equal aplomb, while “Selfishly” reveals the deep influence of Stevie Wonder and Joni Mitchell on Bluey’s sophisticated harmonic structures…even as he makes you move.

“Love Born In Flames” (video above) is buffeted by Stuart Zender’s playful and deep-in-the-pocket bass, a reminder of what made those early Jamiroquai songs so freakishly funky, and topped off by a rockin’ guitar lead by Mr. Maunick himself. Zender returns for the instrumental “Echoes of Utopia,” a song that wouldn’t be amiss on a classic Bobbi Humphrey record, a notion underscored by Andy Ross’ flute. Meanwhile, the other instrumental “Bridges of Fire” is a feature for the Japanese rock guitar legend Tomoyasu Hotei. For a change of pace to a simpler arrangement, there’s the Brazilian-kissed jazz serenade “I See The Light” led by Avery*Sunshine’s piano and Bluey’s lead vocal.

Even without special guests, there’s something special about most of these cuts. “Just Say Nothing” is an Old School dance seducer, givien loads of punch thanks to Mires’ horn arrangement and a pulsing bass line. “Love’s Revival” is one of those uplifting grooves Incognito seems to excel at doing, with a nimble and jazzy Rhodes solo by Cooper. “Love Be The Messenger” has a driving groove and “Crystal Walls” boasts a Deep Soulful House vibe with an organic rendering. “Better Days” flirts with EDM, but its funk-jazz riff is so hard to shake.

Impervious to the ups and downs that often dog other long-running acts, Bluey Maunick’s Incognito remains a consistent purveyor of solid, boogie-ready jazz-funk. In Search Of Better Days never needs to go searching for a feel-good groove, because they’re naturals at creating them.


S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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