Incognito’s “Surreal” is one of the band’s freshest, most creative albums and sees the addition to their line-up of two outstanding new vocalists in Natalie Williams, UK jazz scene luminary, and 26-year-old German-born singer-songwriter Mo Brandis.
Incognito founder Jean-Paul “Bluey” Maunick originally wrote more than 30 songs for the project and whittled them down to the 14 selected for the finished album, which also includes vocal contributions from Maysa – described by Bluey as “my awesome musical muse” – and Vanessa Haynes.
The formula is beautiful songs over a bed of fluid bass lines and irresistible drum grooves, and the album reflects the energy of the band’s live shows, while adding a raw edge to their customary slick studio production.
Mo Brandis, born in Hamburg but brought up in Swaziland, began singing with Incognito on their live dates last summer. An accomplished pianist and sax player, he has already enjoyed success as a songwriter, responsible for a No 2 hit and Gold album in Germany last year. Mo sings and co-wrote the first single “Goodbye To Yesterday”, as well as the equally hooky “Don’t Wanna Know”. Bluey enthuses: “If there’s a young vocalist who can deliver on both sides as a modern R&B singer and a soulful old school crooner, it’s Mo”
Bluey is equally enthusiastic about the qualities that Natalie Williams – one of the most in-demand jazz-soul vocalists in London – brings to the band. “I first became aware of her when we played Ronnie Scott’s club and she was the singer with the house band – I thought she was amazing and began a pressure group to persuade this super busy bee to join us, which she finally relented to, with help from our keyboard player Matt Cooper”.
Natalie contributes the soulful “Above The Night” and the sparse Seventies-style bossa nova “The Stars From Here” as well as “Restless As We Are”. Vocal powerhouse Vanessa Haynes, who joined Incognito two years ago, is in blistering Loleatta Holloway-esque form on the album’s one cover song, “Ain’t It Time”, a little-known Seventies disco tune.
The album’s opener, the funky, bass-driven “The Less You Know” – written by Bluey with the band’s bass player Francis Hylton – is vocalled by the ever reliable Maysa. The US singer, who first featured with Incognito on their 1992 set “Tribes Vibes & Scribes”, also contributes a beautiful performance on “Capricorn Sun”, with its bubbling, rhythmic groove, which Bluey “wrote on my guitar after reflecting on a friend’s ongoing battles with his Capricorn partner”.
Long-time Incognito fans will be happy that there are two driving instrumentals – “Rivers On The Sun” and “Thoughtful Fantasies”, the latter continuing Bluey’s passion for Brazilian jazz funk with all horns blazing, and percussion breaks.
The band perform a 10-day US tour beginning March 28, and then begin several months of touring throughout the UK and Europe in support of the new album. They play London’s Islington Assembly Hall on May 25.