The enduring success of Incognito is one of the great stories of UK music during the last four decades. Look at the recent history of soulful UK artists and you will find any number of short-lived acts that have achieved pop success. Narrow it down to those that have created a uniquely British sound and have endured as a global phenomenon on their own terms, and the list becomes short. Dues, then, to Jean-Paul “Bluey” Maunick and Incognito, formed in 1979 and celebrating almost 40 years of positive vibes and undiluted Jazz-Funk.
The debut Incognito set, Jazz Funk, was an instrumental tour de force, with guests including Hugh Masekela hornsmen Peter Segona and Claude Deppa, and legendary Jamaican trombonist Vin Gordon. “When I write and produce, I respect the musician and singer’s spirits 100%. I have them in mind, considering their styles and allowing them the space to shine. I try to get the best from them and in turn they give their best for my songs and productions. This exchange is the basis for the Incognito sound and the ideology of the band. We work with and for each other!”
In 1983, Incognito went back into the studio to record their second album. Those sessions took a more Jazz-Rock-Fusion-influenced direction, which the record company deemed too much of a stylistic departure to be released as Incognito, so they put it out as a one-off called Behind the Mask under the band name The Warriors. Soon after that, Paul and Bluey went their separate ways. Although Bluey had a day job at the time, he continued writing and producing, and always kept his ears to the ground for new talent. He discovered 14-year-old vocalist Steven Dennis (later re-named Steven Dante) in Hackney, and he also met and worked with Marcus Miller, producer Steve Harvey, artists Maxi Priest, George Duke, Caroll Thompson, Total Contrast, and many others.
“I did anything to keep my love for music alive. It all helped me to develop as a songwriter.”
In the late ’80s, samplers and sequencers were standard and, using a BBC computer, Bluey started creating tracks at home, including what would become the main body of Incognito’s third album, Inside Life. Around that time, Gilles Peterson had just started his Talkin’ Loud label, and was looking for acts to sign.
The albums that followed Tribes cemented Incognito’s place among the in-demand bands on the international stage. Positivity (1993) was among their best, crammed full of slick productions with universal hits like “Still a Friend of Mine” and “Givin’ It Up”. The album sold almost a million units worldwide. “We had a hit with an instrumental called ‘L’Arc en Ciel de Miles’ [from Tribes]. It was a simple tribute to Miles Davis, but that and ‘Deep Waters’ from our Positivity album were huge. It really struck a chord with American audiences,” Bluey recalls. “People identified with the songs, and that album sealed it.”
If Positivity sealed it, then 100 Degrees & Rising super-sealed it. Bluey brought in Joy Malcolm and Pam Anderson for some edge on vocals, and recorded at Abbey Road with a full orchestra, using Clare Fischer’s incredible string arrangements for Rufus as inspiration and the then-undiscovered, BAFTA-winning, British composer-arranger Simon Hale (Jamiroquai, Björk) to write the score. “I wanted to stretch my ability as a writer and producer,” says Bluey, “and I remember keeping a diary that inspired the lyrics. It was all about relating experiences as I felt them, not just about finding a catchy hook.”
A central component of the band’s massive and passionately loyal fan base has always been their powerful and energetic live shows. For Bluey, it is a chance to get close to his audience. “It’s not about playing the tune just to get applause. It’s about communicating, making sure people get it. If I had to pick out some memorable gigs, I’d say Sofia in Bulgaria, feeling the power of a crowd that is hungry for music. Playing the legendary Montreux Jazz Festival in 2005; the first Java Jazz Festival that same year; our first time in Japan at Club Yellow in Tokyo; and more recently, our South American dates in Brazil, Argentina, and Chile. The crown for most enthusiastic audience, however, goes to Seoul in South Korea . . . Crazy love!”
For the next decade, albums have followed thick and fast and feature the best of the young crop of musicians and singers alongside bigger established names. The writing has gotten deeper, the music always uplifting, and the productions timeless. For their 16th studio album, Amplified Soul, Incognito returned to their Jazz-Funk roots. If you have not seen them live, this is the band to see! They shine in every department, the grooves irresistible and the message always positive!
Now almost 40 years on, the Bluey and Incognito story remains a uniquely Great British adventure. From Top 10 hits to producing and collaborating with legendary artists — from R&B icons and powerhouse vocalists to contemporary jazz musicians to international multi-instrumentalists and songwriters, including George Benson, Stevie Wonder, Chaka Khan, Philip Bailey, Jocelyn Brown, George Duke, Al Jarreau, Marcus Miller, Paul Weller, Maxi Priest, Mario Biondi — Bluey Maunick can take his place among the greats of global soul.
“It’s a wonderful time for music. As well as being entertainers, we are teachers, healers, and ambassadors for the human race — and we take that very seriously.”
Cap Jazz Fest is excited to have Incognito Band live at Sound Waves in Hard Rock Hotel & Casino on Sept 17, 2022. AC Jazz Fest will never be the same!
Incognito will be playing live at Sound Waves in Hard Rock Hotel & Casino on Sept 17, 2022. AC Jazz Fest will never be the same!
Haze of Summer (feat. Joy Rose)
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