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Incognito | Features




BlueyAnyone paying attention to the upper echelon of soul music's ever changing face knows the name Incognito. More than the moniker of a great band, Incognito is a brand—a guaranteed one-stop for sophisticated, uplifting U.K.-spun soul-jazz, stamped by a cavalcade of top-notch vocal talent, sweeping arrangements for rhythm section, horns and strings, substance-fueled lyrical content and the unflagging leadership of guitarist/songwriter Jean-Paul Maunick, affectionately known as "Bluey."

Over a 27-year career, London-based Mobo Award winners Incognito made stateside strides with both dreamy urban adult/Quiet Storm fare such as "Deep Waters" and "Still a Friend of Mine," as well as jazzy horn-kissed club jams like "Everyday" and a cover of the Ronnie Laws/Side Effect classic "Always There." Fans will be glad to know that all four of those songs can be found on their latest album, Bees + Things + Flowers—only they'll sound nothing like the arrangements to which they've grown accustomed.

"It was time for me to break away from making records the way I was doing them," the man called Bluey affirmatively states. "A bit of a formula was creeping in. It was time to put a stick in the spoke!" This departure marks an artistic spike in the canon of Incognito with the largely acoustic and meditatively down-tempo Bees + Things + Flowers, the band's first album affiliated with hallowed jazz giants Blue Note Records via Narada Jazz.

The CD’s intriguing title stems from the impressionistic, Haiku-like lyrics of Acid Jazz godfather Roy Ayers' summer of `76 classic "Everybody Loves the Sunshine," the song with which Incognito opens its spellbinding new album. Regarding the title, Bluey comments, "I was looking for something that said 'new beginning' or 'circle of life,' but didn't want to be so obvious about it. Then Roy's words hit me - bees and flowers - that's the circle of life right there! What hipper way to say it? We're making a statement with this record. "By revisiting our own songs, our borrowed songs plus a few new songs, we're showing that music isn't one dimensional."

Fittingly, Bees + Things + Flowers was conceived and recorded over the summer of 2006. Bluey composed the first two new songs, "You Are Golden" and "Raise" on his acoustic guitar lounging poolside in the serenity of Bali. The former was later recorded pretty much as conceived while the latter was flipped into a turbulent drum and bass scorcher.

However, the crux of the album came when Bluey and keyboardist Matt Cooper sat down and wrote another new song called "Crave"... in all of 20 minutes. "We were looking for a piano, but one wasn't available, so we used a Fender Rhodes electric piano. Right then, I ditched the idea of this being an all-acoustic record. The warmth of that sound became the framework for the entire CD. I was also considering using an amplified acoustic bass guitar. But two nights before the session, I was listening to Bill Withers' Live at Carnegie Hall and it brought me to another quick conclusion—I could use electric bass in this context. Nice."

Once the new songs were in place, Bluey selected four key cover songs to include: John Sebastian's "Summer in the City" (with nods to the balmy arrangement Quincy Jones later recorded as well as a string arrangement that mirrors the dark, off-minor work of David Axelrod), America's "Tin Man," Earth Wind & Fire's "That's Way of the World" and the aforementioned Roy Ayers track. "All of that `70s music was my 'inspiration information' growing up," Bluey shares, “a time of purity when we as people were allowed to be children, take chances and experiment."

More philosophically, Bluey continues, "'That's the Way of The World' was written as a warning for the children of tomorrow. Anyone who really listens to that lyric would never expose their children to sitting in front of a computer all day. Whatever we put inside their brains shapes the future. Songs like that were like messages from the gods to me. Maurice White and Charles Stepney were the modern day disciples...prophets with the gifts of words and music. To some extent, those songs were not heeded. But none of it is wasted if we resurrect the sentiment and keep spreading the word. Like the America song says: 'Oz never gave anything to the Tin Man that he didn't already have.'"

Next were the fresh approaches to songs Incognito had already recorded. "I wanted to take the listener to the origin of some of the hits like 'Still a Friend of Mine'—a song I wrote without any instrumentation, just a lyric and a drum machine conga beat. I only added the strings to give it something it was missing—the melancholic atmosphere in my being when I wrote it. It's the closest you'll get to what I had in my brain."

Most miraculously, Bluey corralled the largest number of Incognito singing stars in one album than ever before—singers such as Maysa, Carleen Anderson, Imaani, Joy Rose, Tony Momrelle and Tyrone Henry. "I didn't set out to use so many," Bluey insists. "It just happened when I started thinking of who would sound best on what song. For instance, Jocelyn Brown was the last element I recorded on this album on 'Always There.' She couldn't believe I wanted her to sing in her falsetto—a beautiful sound she rarely goes to because people assume that if they've got Jocelyn Brown in the studio, they've got to have her scream! I wanted people to really listen to the words this time. I did the same thing to my song 'Everyday.' Why are we always mixing something from down-tempo to up-tempo? We've done remixes to get people to dance. Now I say let's make dancers listen to the lyrics for a completely different experience."

That Bees + Things + Flowers was recorded in just six consecutive days speaks volumes for the organic flow that defined the proceedings. For the horn arrangements, Bluey chose the burnished glow of euphonium and flugelhorn over the typically punchier saxophone, trumpet and trombone configuration. Strings were added to several of the songs in one half-day session. Overall, the band gelled like never before. "Part of the reason for that," Bluey adds jokingly, "is that the musicians love football (soccer) so much that they were doing first takes just so they could get back to the ‘tele’ and watch the World Cup! It was summer and the sun was baking down. London isn't usually like that. The atmosphere was like a celebration—a very healing, soothing and energy-giving thing. It made us forget all the troubles of the world for awhile."

Incognito has been affiliated with several great labels including the British pioneering acid jazz imprint Talking Loud and American jazz stalwarts Verve. But Bluey—equal parts music fan and musicologist—is especially jazzed to have his custom Rice Records imprint under the umbrella of the distinguished Blue Note Label Group. "Blue Note played a huge part in the music that has influenced me. They made movements happen in the music world. Years ago I was honored to do a compilation of Donald Byrd's music for them. I consider (Blue Note President) Bruce Lundvall to be one of the unsung heroes of the music industry. I aspire to be just like him, once I come off the road for good."

Reflecting on how Incognito's music has affected fans around the globe in the past, Bluey shares, "I've had people in Japan, Indonesia, South America and Europe come up after shows and tell me, 'Bluey, your music saw me through a rough period.' I think, 'I wrote this thing with my innocent heart so far away from here, yet it's touched someone here.' That's when I realize we can't fix the people, but we can make them aware of what is within. I believe we're on this planet to use language and music to set moods and emotions. Part of that is to strip things down. That was the beauty of doing Bees + Things + Flowers. It shows how we really feel about music."

"Some people at the label have expressed that they like the feel of the new record so much they already want Vol. 2," Bluey concludes. "I may do that, but I'm looking forward to doing other things, like a fully orchestrated big beat album. That's the excitement of doing new and crazy things. Bees + Things + Flowers marks our first giant step into blazing new territories."

1979 - 2003 & BEYOND.

BlueyWhen Incognito made their first recordings in 1979 Jean-Paul Maunick - known to one and all as Bluey - remembers sitting next to the mix engineer getting high on the music and thinking to himself "I hope this will be a long lasting project that will take us places". Here they are in 2003 and about to release their ninth studio album "Who Needs Love", and even having toured the world more than once over the years, Bluey feels like Incognito have only just begun.

Incognito's first break came in the Seventies when Britain's influential and pioneering DJ Chris Hill gave them a recording contract with his Ensign Label. Chris' understanding and love of soul and jazz music helped the band to create their own brand of UK funk & jazz. Without Chris Hill there would never have been an Incognito, so imagine Bluey's joy when Chris called him recently to tell him that he had listened to "Who Needs Love" and thought it was Incognito's best album to date. "His words made me feel that our faith in our music and our commitment to its ideals had paid off", says Bluey. Bluey's past credits and collaborations include Steve Wonder, Philip Bailey, Marcus Miller, D'Angelo, Roger Sanchez, George Benson, Terry Callier.

Featuring contributions from Brazilian musical genius Ed Motta and Britain's most enigmatic troubadour Paul Weller, "Who Needs Love" is a collection of passionately crafted songs and instrumentals. US featured vocalist Kelli Sae from New York is joined by Joy Rose, and former Incognito vocalist Joy Malcolm returns to the line-up.

This album is a musical journey that showcases the band's Seventies roots, documenting their steps along the way through the Eighties & Nineties. Most importantly it shows how refreshing their sound is in a sea of imitators in the year 2003.

In a world of manufactured bands and a commercially driven music industry where creativity and individuality are rare, Incognito continue to take their soulful blend of jazz and funk across the globe. The new album has already sold more than 25,000 copies in Japan, where the band toured for four weeks at the end of 2002.

Following the UK release by Dome Records of "Who Needs Love" on March 17th they return to the live scene on the home front with a run of six consecutive dates at London's Jazz Café from April 20th - 25th.

What do you like about music? Why?
From the earliest age that I can remember music has been my life. The sound of it excites me and puts me in a joyful frame of mind. I've been a musician since the age of five and I always knew that music would play a pivotal role in my life. Listening to artists like Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye gave me much more than entertainment whilst growing up, in fact my record collection has provided me with lessons in humanity, history, geography, life and love.

Can you describe what Incognito's music really is?
Bold, funky and innovative, It's a celebration of life, Inspiration information, a journey into the realm of the senses, the soundtrack to my life's story.

What is Incognito's philosophy as a band?
To make the most of our musical, physical and spiritual journey on this earth. Entertain, educate, and to make a passage for the message! 'Beyond colour and beyond creed, we are one nation under the groove!'

When is the pivotal moment in your life as a musician?
Every time I get on stage, I become the five-year-old kid with a bellyful of fire and a guitar in his hand. At that point I feel like I can make a difference, I can change the world!

What will Incognito do to make the audience's life livelier?
We will communicate with the audience as they embark on a journey with us where the mood will be uplifting and the spirit of the dance reigns supreme.

What does "Incognito" really mean? Is there any story behind the name?
"Incognito" is a Latin word meaning Unknown (or in disguise). I chose this name because I thought it apt for a project where the music and its message is more important than the individuals playing and creating it. It also allows us to change musical directions from album to album and keeps our audience guessing what we will do next. It's a journey into the unknown, it's the element of surprise!

Bluey names 10 of his favourite albums

Jaco Pastorious: Jaco Pastorious (Epic 1976)
A timeless slice of music. The most incredible debut album ever. Gone too soon!

Terry Callier: What Colour Is Love (Cadet 1973)
A gem of a record from a gifted musician singer and songwriter whose unique blend of soul, folk and jazz styles has influenced many of today's stars. Ask Paul Weller, Beth Orton, Carlene Anderson to name but a few.

Donny Hathaway: Live 1972
Donny is on great form here, the voice is super soulful. There's a killer version of "The ghetto". Willie Weeks plays some killer bass lines and one of the baddest bass solos ever. Cornell DuPree, Phil Upchurch take on guitar duties. Also features a young Fred White on drums pre Earth Wind and Fire.

Marvin Gaye: What's Going On (Motown 1971)
This is my bible. Issues social and political being addressed head on, a kick ass band, great arrangements, the ultimate song writing, sheer production genius, and the daddy of vocal performances!

Bill Withers: Live at Carnegie Hall (Oct 1972)
Sweet, ecstatic, soulful, melancholy and down-home. If you want to know Bill Withers, get this album.

Stevie Wonder: Talking Book (Motown 1972)
Written, produced and performed almost single-handedly. This is Stevie at his most creative, just check out the track listing. 1- You Are The Sunshine Of My Life, 2- Maybe Your Baby, 3-You And I, 4- Tuesday Heartbreak, 5- You've Got It Bad Girl, 6- Superstition, 7- Big Brother, 8- Blame It On The Sun, 9- Lookin' For Another Pure Love, 10- I Believe (When I Fall In Love It Will Be Forever) Standout Track? "Lookin' For Another Pure Love' featuring Jeff Beck.

Santana: Caravanserai (1972)
Santana's first genuinely experimental album, and the one that gave me the greatest pleasure. It's my favourite night time album. Turn out the lights, light some candles and burn a little incense, scatter rose petals everywhere and press play.

Joni Mitchell: Shadows and Light (1980)
Although this incredible live unit never recorded a proper studio album we do have this as a reminder of just what is possible. This was the year we recorded our first incognito album. We were kids and this was just a whole other level. Inspirational!

Miles Davis: Kind of Blue (1959)
The stellar line-up includes John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley, Bill Evans, Wynton Kelly, Paul Chambers and Jimmy Cobb. If I could only take one jazz album as my desert island disc, this would be the one. Nuff said!

Earth Wind & Fire: That's The Way Of The World (1975)
I first saw EWF when they played on the bill with Santana on the promotion tour for this album. They completely blew me away and changed how approached music forever.

with special thanks to Dome Records
Incognito Listen to a selection of Incognito songs taken from their new album Bees + Things + Flowers. You will need Windows Media Player to play them.

Deep Waters
Everybody Loves The Sunshine

Hear Bluey from Incognito discuss the new album and play tracks from it
Bees + Things + Flowers
Incognito - Bees + Things + Flowers

01. Everybody Loves The Sunshine
02. Everyday
03. Summer In The City
04. Always There
05. Raise
06. Still A Friend Of Mine
07. Tin Man
08. Crave
09. Deep Waters
10. You Are Golden
11. That's The Way Of The World

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