Incognito made a welcomed return to the Washington DC area with an exciting performance at The Warner Theater, part of a brief East Coast swing of their current world tour. This time out, Jean-Paul "Bluey" Maunick, the fearless leader and founder of the group came through with a leaner, but no less impressive group of 8 musicians and 4 vocalists, highlighted by the always phenomenal Maysa Leak, a virtual hometown hero (hailing from Baltimore, MD).
With a band like Incognito, and a discography of 15 strong studio recordings over a 33 year period, it's always a mystery which songs they will bring to the stage. This set kicked off with a funky version of "Roots," sung by Miss Vanessa Haynes, a Trinidadian beauty with a powerful, distinctive voice. The band came out smoking - horns blaring, percussion thumping, and the rhythm section in full swing. She was followed by the new kid, Mo Brandis, a young man from Germany, who gave a fine reading of Stevie Wonder's classic "As," quite a daring feat before a crowd as demanding as this sold-out house, full of Incognito diehard fans. Following Mo was the dynamic Natalie Williams, a British chanteuse with an elastic range, who did "Can't Get You Out Of My Head."
Then came Maysa, who took the stage to a thundering ovation. In this town, Maysa rules - and she delivered on a trio of classics - "Step Into My Life," "Change," and "Colibri,'" with that unmistakable scat accompanying Bluey's chunky guitar. The vocals on "Change" were particularly powerful. The chorus with those four strong voices was quite memorable.
Incognito's latest release SURREAL was given its spotlight with a song from each of the featured vocalists: Mo on "Goodbye To Yesterday,” Natalie on "Above The Night" - (showing off some scat skills), Vanessa on the thrilling remake of the disco hit "Ain't It Time," and Maysa on " The Less You Know."
Next up was the crowd favorite "Still a Friend of Mine," which gave the audience the chance to sing out loud along with Maysa and Mo.
Bluey explained that due to the limited time available (due to curfew at the theater), he wasn't his usual loquacious self, but he did tell a story about his introduction to artists like Earth Wind and Fire, Roy Ayers, and Lonnie Liston Smith, who built his musical foundation in the ‘70s. He also touted the Brazilian funk group, Banda Black Rio, who wrote the song "Expresso Madureira," which the band then played with fervor, giving the opportunity for the musicians to really strut their collective and individual stuff. At the end of the song, the stage was cleared except for the drummer, Francesco Mandolia from Italy and percussionist Joao Caetano from Portugal. They unleashed a battle that rocked the crowd and set the evening off.
The full band reassembled for two final songs to close the show, "Everyday" and the standby "Deep Water," where Maysa pulled off an interesting twist, incorporating a verse of "I Will Always Love You" into the mix. It was dramatic and moving and added a new meaning to a song we've heard her perform so many times.
In conclusion, Bluey introduced the musicians and told where each one was from, placing an emphasis on the international aspect of the group. He spoke about the power of music to bring all of us together. Incognito took their bows and left the crowd swaying and singing along to a recording of Bob Marley's "One Love."
Incognito proves once again to be the most formidable soul band still standing strong in the legacy of the great groups of the ‘70s. It is always a treat when they make it to the U.S.
About the Writer
Michael Lewis is a long-time associate at SoulMusic.com. His industry experience includes Sony Music, Motown and La Face Records, and a tenure at HEAR Music. He is grateful to contribute to sustaining the legacy of R&B and soul music.