Archives for posts with tag: Jazz-Funk

Concert Live Stream: Incognito, Live at the Java Jazz Festival, March 5, 2017

I crossed off a bucket list item two years ago when I saw Incognito live in Detroit. It was a short set but still a thrill to see them live after decades of my unwavering fandom. Last weekend, Incognito played the renowned Java Jazz Festival from Indonesia, a performance that was streamed live and enjoyed thoroughly by yours truly…from my couch.

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From Right to Left: Vanessa Haynes, Francisco Sales, Francesco Mendolia, Tony Momrelle, Francis Hylton, Imaani

Live stream concerts don’t look much different than any live recording. Indeed, one of the best Incognito shows I’m aware of is their 30th Anniversay Concert in London at the Indigo2. I’ve watched that recording but seeing a live stream does have an additional appeal – being a part of something in the now, no matter how far away.

The show was impeccable of course: energetic funk, deep soul, astounding jazz musicianship, great songs. One of the greatest treats of seeing Incognito live is witnessing virtuoso performances by each and every member of the band. Matt Cooper on keyboards is positively possessed by the music and has a natural touch that brings so much of leader Jean-Paul ‘Bluey’ Maunick’s compositions to life. The horn section, though only three strong, has a presence that you might expect from twice as many players. Guitar, Bass, Drums, and Percussion are equally featured and well served. The George Duke tribute after “Colibri” in particular features generous solos from Francis Hylton (bass guitar), Francesco Mendolia (drums), and João Caetano (percussion).

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During a brief instrument swap, Bluey takes vocals with Matt Cooper moving to drums while drummer Francesco Mendolia covers bass guitar for Francis Hyslop (not pictured), who took over keyboards

Another feature of the live experience was the unexpected swapping of instruments among band members. Bluey took to vocals with some whimsical rapping, Keyboardist Matt Cooper got behind the drum kit, Drummer Francesco Mendolia played bass guitar like it was his first instrument, and long-time vocalist Vanessa Haynes stepped into percussion. The music was just as tight and proved yet again that Incognito demands an exceptionally high standard of well rounded talent from its members.

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Incognito vocalists from Right to Left: Vanessa Haynes, Tony Momrelle, Imaani

Finally, the vocalists shined as they always do. In particular, Vanessa Haynes who has been with the band for over 20 years, showcased her power on “Just Say Nothing” from the latest record, In Search of Better Days (Shanechie Ent. Corp., 2016) and “Everyday” from 1995’s 100 and Rising (Mercury Records). Imaani did more than justice to “Deep Waters,” originally sung by Maysa who wasn’t on this tour. And Tony Momrelle delivered his signature performances of Stevie Wonder’s “As” and Incognito’s latest chart hit, “Hats.”

Bearing witness in real time to a show like this is the next best thing to being there. A distant second, admittedly but not without a hint of magic.

Setlist

  • Expresso Madureira
  • Goodbye to Yesterday feat. Tony Momrelle
  • I Love What You Do For Me feat. Vanessa Haynes
  • Smiling Faces feat. Imaani
  • As feat. Tony Momrelle
  • Just Say Nothing feat. Vanessa Haynes
  • Still a Friend of Mine feat. Imaani & Tony Momrelle
  • instrument swap interlude (Bluey rap)
  • Colibri feat. Vanessa Haynes + A Brazilian Love Affair feat. Francis Hylton, Matt Cooper, João Caetano, and Francesco Mendolia
  • Deep Waters feat. Imaani
  • Hats feat. Tony Momrelle
  • Everyday feat. Vanessa Haynes
  • Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing feat. Vanessa Haynes
  • Nights Over Egypt feat. Vanessa Haynes & Imaani

The Players

Jean-Paul ‘Bluey’ Maunick; Matt Cooper, Keyboards; Vanessa Haynes, Vocals; Tony Momrelle, Vocals; Imaani, Vocals; Francesco Mendolia, Drums; João Caetano, Percussion; Francisco Sales, Guitar; Francis Hylton, Bass; Sid Gauld, Trumpet; Alistair White, Trombone; Jim Hunt, Saxophone.

Media: 

Note, the March 5 concert is reviewed above but the stream was interrupted during the second last song. The March 4 recording is complete.

Roslin Orphanage: The band adopted this cause while in Indonesia for this tour. If you would like to learn more and support the cause, follow the link to the orphanage’s website.

Concert Review: Incognito, Detroit Opera House, April 4 2015

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Jean-Paul ‘Bluey’ Maunick, on stage with Incognito at the Detroit Opera House (April 4, 2015)

I’ve been listening to Incognito’s recorded music for about 25 years and they consistently qualify as my favourite band, my favourite music, and the best group creating new music today. Seeing them live has always been a dream of sorts. For this year’s tour, egged on by my sister, I finally made it happen. We saw Incognito’s short but quality set on a triple bill at the Detroit Opera House on April 4, 2015.

Incognito had a one hour set in between two other well-known ensembles from the smooth jazz realm: Hiroshima and fOURPLAY. Both acts demonstrated strong songwriting, musicianship, and a love for performance. fOURPLAY, in particular, was a pleasure to watch for a couple of reasons. First, they are talented musicians who play together with the cohesion you would expect from a band with their longevity. Second, because two living legends were on stage in leader and pianist Bob James and drummer Harvey Mason. Chuck Loeb on guitar and Nathan East on bass guitar were virtuosos of equal calibre.

But this post is really about Incognito.

One of the most remarkable things about their performance was the setlist itself. Staying in tune with the smooth jazz tone of the evening, Incognito chose to weight their selections with older material, mostly from 1992’s Tribes, Vibes, & Scribes (Phonogram) and 1994’s Positivity (UMG Recordings). With such a short set, they squeezed only one track from their most recent album, Amplified Soul (Shanachi, 2014). Paying respects to Detroit’s musical pedigree, they included a cover of Stevie Wonder’s As, sung with relish by Tony Momrelle.

Incognito Playlist (from memory)

  1. L’Arc En Ciel De Miles
  2. I See the Sun
  3. Roots (Back to a Way of Life)
  4. I Love What You Do For Me
  5. Still a Friend of Mine
  6. Colibri
  7. Deep Waters
  8. As
  9. Everyday

Maysa joined the band for “I Love What You Do for Me” and subsequent songs. She brought her magic to the songs she originally recorded with the band, including free-wheeling scatting on “Colibri” with the incredible range she is known for.

With precious little time, some of the songs were played at a slightly higher tempo than their recorded versions. This kept things moving and jammed more great music into the set.

After the show, we were fortunate enough to meet leader Jean-Paul ‘Bluey’ Maunick, vocalist Tony Momrelle, and sound engineer Chris Lewis. Bluey was gracious with his time and sincerely thankful for our patronage through the years. It was a warm meeting and one I’ll cherish because of how much Incognito’s music has meant to me through the decades.

 

The Players: Jean-Paul ‘Bluey’ Maunick (guitar); Matt Cooper (keyboards); Maysa Leak (vocals); Tony Momrelle (vocals); Vanessa Haynes (vocals); Katie Leone (vocals); Francis Hylton (bass); Sid Gauld (trumpet); Jamie Anderson (sax/flute); Trevor Mires (trombone); Francesco Mendolia (drums); João Caetano (percussion)

 

Album Review: Amplified Soul, Incognito (Shanachie Entertainment, 2014)

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I have to be careful when I choose to write about Incognito because they’ve been my favourite band for over two decades and I’m of the mind they can do no wrong. I’m afraid that’s not about to change. Amplified Soul is Incognito’s 16th Studio album. It follows their 2012 release, Surreal (Shanachie Entertainment).

In the two year gap, co-founder and leader Jean-Paul ‘Bluey’ Maunick has been busy – releasing his solo debut, Leap of Faith (Shanachie, 2013) and an instrumental project with Citrus Sun, People of Tomorrow (Dome Records, 2014). You might think Maunick needed some time to refuel his songwriting engine. Listening to Amplified Soul, you quickly realize this man’s music never ebbs.

With this album, Incognito welcomes back Tony Momrelle as their lead male vocalist, having sat out for Surreal. Vanessa Haynes returns as a featured female vocalist, among others including soul-jazz veteran Carleen Anderson.

Amplified Soul is essential Incognito, with songwriting and musicianship being front and centre. So many tracks are special and like all Incognito studio albums, your favourites move around depending on your mood, where you are in life, and how many times you’ve listened. “Rapture,” featuring long-time collaborator, Imaani, is particularly likeable and has a lasting appeal. The instrumental, “Wind Sorceress” evokes a Donald Byrd and Mizell Brothers quality, much like the Citrus Sun project. “I See the Sun” features addictive vocal phrasing by a new singer with the group, Deborah Bond.

With Amplified Soul, Maunick and his collaborators have given us another packed album that will surely carry us until their next release. Thankfully, the last two years suggest we won’t have too long a wait for Maunick’s next musical burst.

 

 

Album Review: People of Tomorrow, Citrus Sun (Dome Records, 2014)

Citrus-sun-albumIt took me a while to come to this album produced by Incognito’s Jean-Paul ‘Bluey’ Maunick. I was reluctant not because I had any doubts it would be good but because it was immediately swept into the “smooth jazz” realm. I have a tentative relationship with that genre. On the one hand, Incognito’s instrumental work and other artists who have attracted that descriptor (e.g. George Benson, Bob James) have created an amazing body of work that respects jazz’ tradition while embracing elements of soul, funk, and even pop music. On the other hand, there is a sizeable slice of “smooth jazz” that remains bland and formulaic.

People of Tomorrow falls easily into the first category – great jazz music with latin and soul influences. But it wasn’t until a recent listen to the track, “Yesterday Detroit” did it hit me why this album is special. At times, it rekindles a sound in jazz music that Donald Byrd and the Mizell Brothers perfected some 30 years ago. Having just lost Donald Byrd last year, it’s a fitting tribute, even if unintentional.

Listening to “Yesterday Detroit,” Domenic Glover’s trumpet solos are reminiscent of Byrd’s expansive style. The title track is similarly steeped in Glover’s trumpet. Combined with steady rhythm tracks and funk-inspired arrangements, the sonic landscape of a classic album like Byrd’s Places & Spaces (Blue Note, 1975) springs into new life. Remarkable.

Featured on most tracks is Jim Mullen, a veteran of the jazz guitar. Comparisons to Wes Montgomery are not coincidental. Like Montgomery did, Mullen picks with his thumb and his style is just as fluid as Montgomery’s. The lead track, “Mais Uma Vez (One More Time)” opens with an addictive melody, expands into a luxurious solo by Glover, and closes with a Mullen solo so cheerfully easy going, you can see the smile on his face as you listen.

In a promotional interview on the project, Maunick cited a Herbie Mann album someone gifted him as the inspiration for the latin jazz elements on the album. Although he didn’t name the album, my guess is he was talking about Do the Bossa Nova with Herbie Mann, originally released in 1963 (Atlantic reissue, 2005).

People of Tomorrow manages considerable breadth in its 10 tracks. As well as the latin influence and contemporary jazz tracks, “Cooking with Walter” offers a more uptempo, dance-inspired sound, not unlike what we might hear as an Incognito instrumental (fans of the TV series Breaking Bad will get the title).

Still, I have to come back to the Byrd comparison, which somehow makes me more welcoming of a new smooth jazz record. It reminds me that smooth jazz, like its ancestor, can be great given the right songwriting and musicianship. People of Tomorrow has both in spades.

The Players: Jean-Paul ‘Bluey’ Maunick – Guitar; Jim Mullen – featured Guitar; Matt Cooper – Keyboards, Piano, Fender Rhodes, Drums; Domenic Glover – Trumpet, Trombone; Pete Ray Biggin – Drums; Richard Bull – Drums, Acoustic Guitar, Keyboards, Organ, Percussion; Joao Caetano – Percussion; Randy Hope-Taylor – Bass; Francis Hylton – Bass, Drums, Guitar, Keyboards, Piano; Francesco Mendolia – Drums; Valerie Etienne – Vocals.

Related Posts:

 

Album Review: The Man, Omar, Shanachie Entertainment, 2013

omar-the-man-lp-lead It’s not everyday a bass clarinet is used to drive a hooky bassline on a monster R&B hit, as is the case with “The Man,” the title track from Omar’s 7th studio album. U.K. R&B/Soul veteren, Omar a.k.a Omar Christopher Lyefook) has mercifully returned after a seven year recording absence.

Basslines, including the obscure-yet-effective woodwind on “The Man,” emerge as Omar’s calling card throughout this fine album. “Simplify” is driven by stacatto flute sounds. “Come on speak to me” is carried by a hard-working double bass.

The Man also features several collaborations including former Jamiroquai bassist Stuart Zender playing on “Ordinary Day,” a bossa-inspired track punctuated by Omar’s vocal ad lib and pulsing with energy thanks to some fantastic horn and string arrangements. Another collaboration is with former The Who and D’Angelo bassist, Pino Palladino doing a renewed version of Omar’s most popular hit, “There’s nothing like this.” This version is jazzier than the original, with more  swing and some nice Rhodes work by Omar himself. The bassline is true to the original classic, not giving Palladino much space to play. Nice as this version is, it struck me as an odd choice, re-working a song whose original still stands up today.

Still, the entire album is pleasing, like a stroll on a fine day. Each track delights with its unique bassline. Omar’s flawlesss vocals are aptly front-and-centre in every mix, and the innovative instrumentation gives the music a freshness that sets it apart from other recent releases in the R&B, Soul, and Jazz-Funk genre’s.

Album Review: Leap of Faith, Jean-Paul ‘Bluey’ Maunick (Shanachie, March 2013)

imagesTo die-hard Incognito fans like me, the news of co-founder and premier songwriter Jean-Paul ‘Bluey’ Maunick’s debut solo release came with some cautious optimism. Optimistic because Bluey is a brilliant songwriter and producer. Cautious because without his usual cadre of Incognito collaborators, I wondered what would be left behind.

Stylistically, the album has a fairly broad range, from R&B tracks like “Take a chance on me” and “Keep myself together” to “Live like a millionaire,” a fun-filled ode to the Isley Brothers’ “It’s your thing.” Bluey even uses spoken word in the title track, telling Nelson Mandela’s story through verse, overtop a heavy bass groove. My favourite track, however, is “If you really wanna,” laden with breezy acoustic guitars and vocals.

The first single, “Got to let my feelings show,” is an uplifting and danceable track, driven by syncopated synth lines from  Domenic ‘Ski’ Oakenfull. Oakenfull, a former Incognito keyboardist, also lends his production chops to “Ain’t nobody’s business but my own,” the most electronically influenced track in the collection.

The vocals Incognito fans have come to expect accompanying this calibre of songs are normally delivered by spectacular talents like Maysa Leak, Tony Momrelle, and more recently, Natalie Williams. Bluey’s vocals are not as distinctive or powerful but that’s hardly a criticism. Making his ‘leap of faith’ to put this record out, you have to give it to Bluey for trying something outside of his tried and true formula for success. His vocals, though unfamiliar at first, emerge into an authentic style that Maunick and his fans can embrace.

Stepping outside of the Incognito umbrella, Maunick has remained whole and revealed something new. Leap of Faith is a remarkable outing from a legend in jazz-funk and R&B who proves again he is an endless source of great songs and satisfying grooves.

Album Review: The Secret Life of Us, Joey Negro & The Sunburst Band (Z Records, 2012)

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U.K. producer Joey Negro (a.k.a. Dave Lee) has a knack for recreating 70’s funk/disco zeitgeist with a contemporary dance sensibility. This is the fourth album from his Sunburst Band incarnation and its most uplifting and danceable collection.

Missing from this album is some of the innovation we saw in earlier releases which experimented quite brilliantly, with some jazz and electronic fusion. Notably, Until the end of Time from 2004 featured a sensational ode to Ahmad Jamal in the track “Far Beyond,” borrowing Jamal’s climax from his opus, “Swahililand.”

To be fair, there are indeed some unconventional tracks here, including “Jazz the DMX,” a jazz fusion overtop dance beats and “Educated Funk,” a trancey interlude, showcasing some of the talented players in the band, such as bassist Julian Crampton.

Former Incognito guitarist, Tony Remy, also makes his mark, especially in his easy-going rhythm track on “Opus de Soul.”

This album is at its best though across the generous collection of dance tracks that blend soulful house and jazz/funk elements. “In the Thick of It” is a brilliant opener with a nice bossa outro. The title track, sung in duet by Donna Gardier and Diane Charlemagne, is a great melody, reminiscent of Incognito and the Brand New Heavies, circa 1995.

As well as an impressive line-up of vocalists, what stands out are the keyboards of Michele Chiavarini. I don’t think I’ve heard this much use of a bender since 1982! “Where the Lights Meet the Music” showcases Chiavarini’s style, which rekindles the early 80’s pop/funk sound innovated by D-Train keyboardist, Hubert Eaves III.

“Caught in the Moment” uses the Doobie Brothers “What a Fool Believes” rhythm track, continuing a series from prior releases that paid homage to classics. Namely, “Atlantic Forest” from Here Comes the Sunburst Band (1998) is a nod to Paul Hardcastle’s “Rainforest.” And “We Will Turn You On” from Until the End of Time pays tribute to CHIC’s “Good Times” rhythm.

It’s remarkable that a producer as prolific as Lee has managed to keep this outfit together over its now 15 year history. Releasing an album about every 4 years shows confidence, that their music, like its 70’s pedigree, will continue to make people move.

Players:

Dave Lee (producer), Michele Chiavarini (keys), Julian Crampton (bass), Thomas Dyani-Akuru (percussion), Tony Remy (guitar), Pete Simpson (vocals), Frank Tontoh (drums)

Album Review: Surreal, Incognito, March 2012

Incognito is my favourite band so I will try not to gush. Surreal is their 15th studio album and delivers a collection of songs that is consistent with what I’ve come to expect from this UK-based ensemble: Tantalizing arrangements, lush production, impeccable musicianship, and stellar songwriting.

Founder and premier songwriter, Jean-Paul ‘Bluey’ Maunick, describes this album as a ‘turning point’ for Incognito. It marks a transition to a younger generation of vocalists who take up the torch from the many performers who incubated a successful solo career under the Incognito umbrella. Maysa, and more recently Tony Momrelle and Imaani Saleem, have gone their own way, returning from time to time, as Maysa does on the opening track, “The Less You Know.”

Filling their shoes are Mo Brandis and Natalie Williams. At first, I was disappointed in the absence of Tony Momrelle from this record. But Brandis’ performance on the first single, “Goodbye to Yesterday” will convince Incognito fans that we have been left in good hands. Williams too, has a strong voice with great range that is so often called for in Bluey’s compositions. Maysa’s tracks are well chosen for her style. “Capricorn Sun” is classic Incognito, reminding me of their much earlier work on the Positivity album (1993).

“Rivers of the Sun” is the requisite instrumental and is one of the more memorable of recent albums. Maunick brings back the tonal chant he used in “Fearless” from 1999’s No Time Like the Future. Although it is a very subtle application, it is an effective hook and might feel nostalgic to those of us following the band through its three decades of recording history.

As usual for an Incognito album, all the tracks are strong. “Ain’t it Time” is the only cover, stemming from the disco era. Vanessa Haynes belts it out, no doubt in platform shoes behind the mic.

I can’t bring myself to ranking Incognito records in any way, stating one is better than another. Their albums are tirelessly consistent, yet each have a new appeal. Surreal continues that joyous tradition.