March 25, 2007

Incognito - Bees + Things + Flowers

Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. Jean Paul 'Bluey' Maunick has been the heart life and soul of jazz funksters Incognito from as far back as 1980. It was then that the band put out its first demo single, ‘Parisienne Girl’ which, thanks to strong radio and club support, peaked at #73 in the UK charts. Subsequently, and with a panache that has developed through time for including a variety of guest singers, Incognito has continued to push the envelope of its own brand of jazz tinged soul. Its music, often sophisticated, sometimes complex, but always compelling, has helped establish the band as one of the UK’s finest exports. In addition, the reputation of Maunick has also transcended continents and led him to produce for Ray Simpson, Chaka Khan and George Benson. Although it took ten full years from the 1981 release of their debut Jazz Funk for the ‘follow up’, Inside Life, to come along, the momentum since then has been such that their new release Bees + Things + Flowers is the bands seventeenth in all. Featuring the largest number of guest singing stars from the Incognito stable ever to appear on one album it is a collection of re-imaged classics, choice covers and original music that finds Bluey turning down the tempo in favor of sumptuous arrangements and poetic lyrics.

A case in point is the sensitive handling of ‘Always There’ featuring Jocelyn Brown. Singing in falsetto tones and deconstructing the tune to its basic elements she quite simply turns this club classic into a thing of beauty. As expected Maunick’s mark is everywhere. As well as providing stellar production he variously writes or co-writes four new songs and one of them, ‘Crave’, helps position the CD’s overall sound. Bluey’s original intention had been to create Bees + Things + Flowers as a totally acoustic project. However, the warmth of the sound he engendered by use of a Fender Rhodes gave the track a rich tone and became the framework for the whole album. Another brand new song, ‘Raise’, again finds Jocelyn Brown in restrained mode while Tony Momrelle is in charge for Maunick’s gentle ‘You Are Golden’.

Maysa is another Incognito regular and in keeping with the mood of the entire CD she takes a gentle approach to her vocals on the reworking of two of the bands songs from the past, ‘Still A Friend Of Mine’ and the wonderfully sparse ‘Deep Waters’. She also shares vocal credits with Carleen Anderson on the nine minute odyssey of Earth Wind and Fires ‘That’s The Way Of The World’ and its Anderson who is up front for two more imaginative covers. Her smoky take on the Lovin’ Spoonful’s ‘Summer In The City’ is exceptional while her performance on the bands polished interpretation of the America 1974 hit ‘Tin Man’ makes it one of the albums standout tracks.

Bluey reaches back to 1995 and turns to the vocals of Imaani for the jazzily mellow ‘Everyday’ while it’s a line from the albums opening cut, the Roy Ayers classic ‘Everybody Loves The Sunshine’, that provides Bees + Things + Flowers with its title. With Joy Rose on vocals, distinctive keys from Matt Cooper and understated strings from the Millennia Ensemble this is jazz fusion as it’s meant to be.

Recorded in just six consecutive days during the summer of 2006 Bees + Things + Flowers is sure to find a fit with Incognito stalwarts and those new to the band who prefer their jazz with a melodic and soulful twist.

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this edition of the Secret Garden? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at March 25, 2007 5:23 PM