Incognito: Making Surreal Music
With their very first release back in 1979, the 11-piece U.K. jazz/funk/soul band Incognito is back in the U.S. picking up spot dates with Robert Glasper and Mos Def and releasing their latest project “Surreal.” As perhaps the most visible band during the 1990 s Acid Jazz movement, Incognito s musical consistency has sustained them the through the rise and fall of smooth jazz radio and into a new generation of sounds. Founder/Producer Jean-Paul ‘Bluey’ Maunick makes it clear that his formula for success came from listening to classic soul music as a kid growing in the U.K. Jazz and Funk master influences ranged from Herb Hancock to Stevie wonder horn arrangements, jazz trumpet innovator Miles Davis and groups like Tower of Power and Earth Wind & Fire. As a big-band with interchangeable members, their collaborations periodically cross paths with the likes of their actual music influences Chaka Khan and legendary soul songwriter Leon Ware. Baltimore s own jazz soul songstress Maysa Leak retains the role of adding the sweet vocals along with newcomers Natalie Williams, Vanessa Haynes and Mo Brandis. Incognito front man Maunick touched bases with old friends at RollingOut about keeping the music fresh for new listeners and old fans alike.
Inspiration of Soul Music Legends and Making “Surreal”
“Working with Leon Ware and Chaka Khan on the last album marked a new chapter in my life. I m a fan of these artists and folks like Jill Scott and [Brooklyn-based live dance music trio] Tortured Soul. Because of that, being in a room with folks like this gives me a comfort zone and they treat me like an equal. That exchange of ideas was great especially after hearing the work that Leon did with Marvin Gaye and after buying Chaka Khan and Rufus “Live at The Savoy.”
This inspired me made me to add new songwriters to the “Surreal” album where we have new touring band members not even familiar with the old history Incognito. I rarely let people into that part of my world. We narrowed 50 tracks down and added lyrical songwriting. “The Less You Know” performed with Maysa started as a strong bass and drum sonic platform making for a great song. Maysa is the yin to the yang adding the soul and sweetness to the raw funk and edge. Natalie [Williams] adds to my world a similar consciousness in “Restless” and helped make better sense of “Above The Night” that I wrote with our music
director Matt Cooper. When she started singing, the songs were fresh and more personal. She gives us an old school 50 s/60 s jazz singer with a bit of folk soul sound like an Adele. “Goodbye To Yesterday” was a collaboration with Mo Brandis and I. He was a young German kid who lived in Africa and spent most of his life in Switzerland so his background helped as a successful young crooner adds a new school of soul. Matt Cooper our music director is really good at connecting with people. He energizes us and is a really brilliant musician. He s that academic cat who studies, is full of great information, and who can play from Latin to Jazz.
Because we are fans of music, there is always a mixture of the old and new and the unexpected. We re really looking forward to being on the road and taking the music back to the county where it came from.
New Gen of Musical Trailblazers
Robert Glasper is a perfect example. He goes into so many atmospheres, but it is still his music because of the strength of the piano-but it s not limited to jazz. Christian Scott (28 year-old, award-winning jazz trumpeter) has an amazing sensibility to add rock vocals sounds like D Angelo to jazz. One of the biggest joys of this past year was hearing Khari Cabral s (former India.Arie music director) latest album “Clemintine Sun.” He asked me to do the final mix of his album for him. Very rarely do you get a chance to work with people like Khari and India.Arie. A lot of the most current soul listening is coming out of Atlanta [with other artists] like Anthony David and Avery Sunshine.
Changes In the Music Industry & Smooth Jazz Radio
“The golden-years of the music industry are gone for when the industry was able to invest money on a wide range of cutting-edge groups like they used to. We tend to gravitate to the eclectic and the underground while sometimes the industry caters more to corporate interests. Our timing is always good as we try to keep the right the right edge of soul, jazz and funk during times when the people are really craving for this sound instead of commercial interests.
I predicted the demise of “Smooth Jazz Radio” years ago because it was too corporate controlled. It s not the wording that bothered me-it was the generic broadcast standard limiting lyrics, content and emotion. They were gagging us. The artists will have staying power, but the stations that tried to take the “soul” out of it. The DJs and the personalities are what keep you interested. They are what relate it to what s actually going on in the market. You need to raise the heartbeat of the audience. Smotth Jazz formats were destroying what was exciting about radio. People weren t looking for a stale soundtrack. They needed to be more alive. It s like getting a present and you already know what s in it.”
“The U. S. industry is two-pronged where the county is so vast that sometimes it feels disconnected. Music is abroad. The overseas markets seem to be more open to a wider range of sounds. Overseas you have to be more original, in the U.S. artists feel like they have to conform to what the radio is playing. Of course, this is a generalization, because there are great innovative artists here, but the international markets fuse and crossover more sounds. There is a new generation of jazz and soul and indie acts coming out now in the States so I do see music coming back around. Twitter and Facebook are helping people gather more information for things that help enhance their lives. We re using the Internet and things that are available to us know to help expand minds.
There is a new emphasis on live music that is just powerful now. Everything seems to go in cycles. We love that there is a whole new generation that is listening to and supporting our music.”