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Incognito - Transatlantic RPM (2010)

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By Pico

Last week, that venerable soul-jazz outfit out of London Incognito released a new disc Transatlantic RPM, an occasion we marked with a couple of streams to songs to tracks on that record (click here to listen to the streams of “Lowdown" and “Gotta"). Now, it's time to delve into this platter, but first, a little background:

Incognito has always been about the musical vision of one man, producer/songwriter/guitarist Jean-Paul “Bluey" Maunick, one of the driving forces behind the soul-jazz or “acid" jazz revival of the 1990's. Born in the African island nation of Mauritius, Maunick's family moved to England around the time he was nine, and he eagerly absorbed the thriving London r&b music scene of the seventies. He co-founded the disco-funk band Light of the World (named after a Kool & The Gang LP) in 1978, but the band made only a handful of records over the next few years before breaking up. Maunick formed Incognito with one of the LOTW band mate Paul “Tubs" Williams just a year later, and their first album Jazz Funk first appeared in 1981. After then, Williams left and the band went into a ten year hiatus but came back with Inside Life (1991) just as acid jazz was exploding in the UK and his group soon became one of this genre's biggest acts, releasing an album at least every other year since then. Using a revolving cast of sharp musicians and soulful vocalists, Maunick has been able to reinvigorate the music of Stevie Wonder, Earth, Wind & Fire, Rufus with Chaka Khan, Roy Ayers and Heatwave with new songs (or occasional covers of songs from the classic era, like Ronnie Law's “Always There") and new production touches.

Incognito records are hugely consistent; they never stray far from their brass-fired, ass-wiggling crystal ball formula Maunick established from the get-go. Although it's a formula that has been successful, that doesn't keep Bluey from occasionally trying new twists on records to keep the group out of a rut while staying in the groove. He inserted some Sergio Mendes styled tastes of Brazil for Who Need Love (2003) and went for a (relatively) more stripped down and laid back vibe for Bee + Things + Flowers (2006). Transatlantic RPM, brings its own nice little twist with it: guest appearances with major star power.

Maunick shows off that star power right away on the lead-off track with a remake of the Boz Scaggs' 1977 classic “Lowdown." There isn't a lot that he does differently with the original arrangement of the song but it hardly matters, because the passionate vocal performances by both Chaka Khan and the Sicilian soul crooner sensation Mario Biondi make this a remake worth listening to. Though taped separately on Italian and American soil, Khan and Biondi blend their voices in and around each other in a perfect duet. Khan reappears on a tune she co-wrote with Maunick, “The Song," a mid-tempo r&b tune in the style of classic Earth, Wind & Fire. Which is appropriate since Al McKay from the classic EW&F lineup adds his recognizable tasty jazz guitar licks to the song. Songwriting and singing Motown legend Leon Ware adds his voice to a soul song that hearkens back to Teddy Pendergrass' salad days. The spoken-word poetess Ursula Rucker adds her unique singing style to “Gotta," speaking the lyrics but often in tune with the melody; it's not quite rap, and not conventional singing, but a unique approach that catches your attention and commands focus on the lyrics. Biondi returns to supply his powerful pipes to the dancefloor workout “Can't Get Enough."

Elsewhere, Maunick utilizes the vocal talents of lesser-known but talented names like Tony Momrelle, Joy Rose, Vanessa Haynes, and Incognito's most prominent vocalist, Maysa (Leak). Luckyiam.PSC adds a new school rap to an old school grooves for “Everything That We Are," the only obvious nod to more current musical trends on the record. The highlights of the these tracks include the Rose-sung nostalgic disco boogie “1975," full of references of the year, from the death of Cannonball Adderley to the birth of rapper 50 Cent. Maysa puts her expressive vocals to good use on the light, agreeable groove of “Your Sun My Sky."

Transatlantic RPM was a dream come true for Maunick, to be able to work with artists he's idolized as a kid growing up in the northern London district of Tottenham, but like all previous Incognito albums, it's his celebration of their music that is the main theme of this one. Although the songs aren't as uniformly memorable as the last CD Tales From The Beach (2008), Transatlantic is accomplished and a pretty good representation of the Incognito brand. 1975 hardly ever seemed to be so alluring as it does when you listen to an Incognito record like this one.

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This story appears courtesy of Something Else!.
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