Jazzy, R&B-inflected pop — aka ‘yacht rock’ — is music that had its day in the USA through the 70s and into the early 80s but since then the UK became the main mecca for this kind of music. From the time that Level 42 broke onto the scene, a long succession of funk-jazz, acid jazz, R&B jazz acts have sprung up, from the Brand New Heavies to Jamiroquai and don’t forget Incognito. While we’re waiting on America to pick up the slack again, there’s now yet another British concern coming into the scene that will only add to their dominance in the field because this new band Biscay is coming onto the scene already doing this kind of music pretty well.
They don’t even have a full album out yet but an upcoming EP Burnt Mementos (out March 24, 2017) provides enough reason to think they’ll stick. Led by its guitarist Phil Danter, this sextet straight out of London and Birmingham also originally included Ben Haines (drums), Kris Chase-Byrne (keyboards), Rich Beardmore (bass) and Mikey Davis (saxophone).
But like Level 42, things took a fateful turn last year when the guys decided to front their fusion with a singer. Biscay went outside the band, though, all the way to France where lead vocalist Eléa May is from. She brings her unmistakable French accent into her singing voice but also a certain soulful sultriness that’s legion in France, and lends Danter’s compositions character and a little bit of wit.
Danter wrote all six numbers, save for some French rap lyrics May helped to contribute on the snappy “Your Cold Heart.” As someone befitting of the winner of several songwriting contests, he pens catchy, grown-up melodies with sharp observations of relationships and the human condition that are witty without tipping over into being too cute.
“Pretty People,” made into a video seen above, would have been a Top 40 hit easily back in ’82, with a confident bounce in its step. Their funk chops come out for “Good Odds, Odd Goods,” a propulsive bass line and happy drums leading the way and capped off with Danter’s nifty jazz solo and Chase-Byrne’s retro synth aside tossed in to complete the old-school vibe.
But most impressive (to me, anyway) are the tracks that convincingly evoke the kings of 70s jazz-pop, Steely Dan. “Little Miss Kryptonite” is an obvious tribute to the Dan’s genius, and Davis’ saxes even got their horn charting tendencies down. “Arromanches” is one of those sophisticated disguised blues numbers that SD perfected with songs like “Chain Lightning” and “Pretzel Logic,” and Danter’s guitar lead is a little like Walter Becker’s blues ruminations.
Preview and get your copy of the Burnt Mementos EP from Biscay’s Bandcamp page.
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