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Formed in 1979 in London, England by leader Jean-Paul "Bluey" Maunick (born c. 1957 in Mauritius; emigrated to England, c. 1967). Other core members include vocalists Pamela Anderson and Joy Malcolm and musician Simon Hale. Joined by others for recordings and tours to form a 12- to 15-member band, often featuring an orchestra section. Addresses: Record company--Talkin' Loud/Verve Forecast, 825 8th Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10019.
By the mid-1990s, musical boundaries had become less and less restrictive and the term "crossover"-- used to describe musicians who ventured beyond their own genre--carried less and less meaning. Rap, soul, country, rock, and alternative music have all appeared at one time or another, sometimes simultaneously, on Billboard's Top Ten chart. Vintage crooner Tony Bennett found fame in MTV circles while country music, once relegated to rural America and the urban South, entered the mainstream. Even the solid institution of jazz has seen a change in its scope, particularly in the way that acid jazz has blurred the distinctions between jazz, hip-hop, and R&B. As Island Records executive Peggy Dold explained to Billboard, "You can't define acid jazz with one particular record or artist. There are nuances and differences in the music, which is very healthy." Enter England's Incognito. Comprised of Jean-Paul "Bluey" Maunick, Joy Malcolm, Pamela Anderson, and Simon Hale, Incognito began making records in the early Eighties that took jazz and soul as a starting place, but arrived somewhere entirely different by way of street-smart creativity and experimental yet solid musicianship.
Incognito delivers Seventies-style R&B dressed up in Nineties garb with definite jazz underpinnings, a mood that follows the musical vision of the band's leader, Bluey Maunick. An adolescence in London, where R&B, funk, and jazz were tremendously popular, ensured that Maunick developed a strong affinity for artists such as Herbie Hancock, Stevie Wonder, and Earth, Wind & Fire. "Jazz-funk [in the '70s] gave British kids a tremendous sense of freedom," Maunick told Newsday. "It loosened them up on the dance floor in a way that no other music had previously, bringing together black and white for the first time. The lyrics suggested the positivity of life; it was an optimistic, life-affirming vibe."
Though the band's soulful rhythms usually escape criticism and attract listeners, their detractors point to the jazz element in their sound as a source of weakness. The venerable chronicle of the jazz scene, Down Beat, critiqued the band's 1994 album Positivity and found that "Maunick's bland, laid-back tunes are no jazzier than, say, Sade's." Elsewhere, Howard Reich of the Chicago Tribune said of a 1994 performance, "Evidently, Incognito believes its horn players' riffs constitute jazz, though these simplistic little melodic hooks, repeated ad nauseum, are pale imitations of the real thing." In his defense of his inspirations, Maunick declared in an interview with the Los Angeles Times, "I dug Roberta Flack and Chaka Khan, but I equally dug Joni Mitchell. When you grow up in a society where music wasn't pigeonholed, you have an advantage. It was all just music in those days."
While Maunick plays the guitar and his compositions rely on steady percussion and occasional horn flurries, the attention generally falls on the band's vocalists. Singers Pamela Anderson and Joy Malcolm both demonstrate well-trained abilities to deliver sultry sounds reminiscent of Anita Baker. Critics generally agree that Incognito's jazz heritage is largely present in its lyrical delivery. Positivity, the band's 1994 album, made use of vocalist Maysa Leak of Baltimore, Maryland. Maunick hired Leak to appear on the group's 1993 release after an audition conducted over the telephone. Leak's alto voice so powerfully filled the record that the Tribune's Reich termed her vocals rife with "voluptuousness."
As Incognito's founder and leader, the band's history begins--and will presumably end--with Maunick's own. Born on Mauritius Island, near Madagascar in the Indian Ocean, Maunick moved with his mother to London at age ten. Inspired by the city's rich music scene, he formed Light of the World, an R&B/jazz band noted for the fact that they were one of the first black bands in London to receive critical attention. When that band came to a demise, Maunick formed Incognito in 1979. The band released Jazz Funk in 1980 and the record found its way to the British Top 30, where it remained for two months.
The record's success notwithstanding, musical tastes in Britain, and London especially, shifted from the lush and soulful to the sparse and erratic. Punk bands began to consume the charts and clubs looked to new bands such as the Clash and the Buzzcocks to occupy their stages. Seemingly a casualty of music's evolution, Maunick held firm to his style and found work producing other acid jazz bands that continued to forward the genre. Maunick told London's Guardian, "I was still searching for my place in the scheme of things, but trying to stay true to music."
Maunick's fortunes took a dramatic turn for the better in 1991. A well-respected club DJ, Giles Peterson, took control of a newly formed Verve Records division, Talkin' Loud Records. Talkin' Loud, affiliated with Verve, itself a division of Polygram, was charged with signing bands that fell beyond the boundaries of its more traditional corporate parents. With Peterson--a veteran of London's thriving club scene--at the helm, Talkin' Loud sought out Maunick and gave Incognito a second life. Maunick surrounded himself with the core group of Joy Malcolm, Pamela Anderson, and Simon Hale, but for each of Incognito's four Talkin' Loud releases, he added several additional musicians to make for a bigger, more orchestral sound.
A string of successful albums and a few high-scoring singles solidified Incognito's place in acid-jazz circles. "Still a Friend of Mine," from 1994's Positivity was the band's commercial high-water mark until the release of 1995's 100@ and Rising. Maunick brought in singer Barry Stewart to record on the album, which features a bit of flamenco guitar in addition to Incognito's trademark blend of Seventies rhythm with jazzed-up vocals. Because Maunick prides himself on his ability to meld diverse musical styles into a single coherent groove, it comes as no surprise that in discussing the record he told the Los Angeles Times, "I'm like a musical vampire. I need the fresh blood to give me that musical life source, the feeding source, to inject into my new ideas."
In addition to scouring the musical landscape for sonic rejuvenation, Maunick busies himself at the producer's console, working with big-name artists like Stevie Wonder, Chaka Khan, and George Benson. The transition for Maunick from behind the mic to behind the board for artists of such caliber comes as a singular thrill for the 38-year old. "...Why, it's like getting a call from God," he told the Los Angeles Times of his work with such platinum artists. Incognito, in all its line-up permutations, has built a solid club following and with Maunick's experience as a producer and his inexhaustible quest for fertile territory, critics and fans envision only bigger and better things for one of Britain's top acid-jazz ensembles.
by Rich Bowen
First recording Jazz Funk released in the U.K., 1980; signed with Verve's Talkin' Loud label, 1991; released Inside Life, 1992; single "Always There" from Inside Life hits Top Ten, 1992; vocalist Maysa Leak joins group for recording of Tribes, Vibes + Scribes, 1993; recorded and released Positivity, 1994; single "Still a Friend of Mine" from Positivity achieves highest commercial success for group, 1994; released 100@ and Rising featuring Barry Stewart, 1995.
- Selective Works
- Inside Life, Verve Forecast/Talkin'Loud, 1992.
- Tribes, Vibes + Scribes, Verve Forecast/Talkin'Loud, 1993.
- Positivity (contains the single "Still a Friend of Mine"), Verve Forecast/Talkin'Loud, 1994.
- 100@ and Rising, Verve Forecast/Talkin'Loud, 1995.
- Also recorded and released the LP Jazz Funk in the United Kingdom, 1980.
- Billboard, December 17, 1995.
- Chicago Tribune, May 8, 1994.
- Down Beat, August 1994.
- Guardian, (London), June 2, 1995.
- Journal and Constitution (Atlanta), June 9, 1995; June 12, 1995.
- Los Angeles Times, June 7, 1995; June 9, 1995.
- Newsday (New York), May 22, 1994.
- Rolling Stone, June 16, 1994; October 19, 1995.
- Schwann Spectrum, Winter 1995.
- Sun-Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale), July 30, 1995.
- Vibe, August 1995.
- Washington Times, May 14, 1994.
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