Incognito is undoubtedly the most consistent act in R&B today. After celebrating their 30th anniversary last year, they return with a new CD that is, not surprisingly, entirely entertaining, joyous and phenomenal. Founder and producer Jean-Paul 'Bluey' Maunick has truly mastered the craft of taking elements of his influences from '70s R&B's and Jazz, and transforming them into a most complete array of horn arrangements, string patterns, unrelenting rhythm and dynamic vocals.
And what an amazing group of vocalists that came in to share on "Transatlantic RPM". The iconic Chaka Khan has two songs on the CD. The leadoff song, a remake of Boz Scaggs' classic "Lowdown" in a duet with Mario Biondi, shows that Bluey is the producer Chaka has been waiting for. They do a fine cover that brings new flavor with the two distinct vocal styles. Even better is "The Song", which shows a playful, mellow side of Chaka that feels so good, riding on a groove that develops from its slightly Brazilian opening. She knocks this one out of the park with her patented layered vocal arrangements. Amazing!
Something new for Incognito, rapper Lucky Iam gives a new school twist on top of Bluey's sweet production on "Everything That We Are". "Jimi, Marvin, Michael, yeah they all gave the gift to me, lucky Incognito bridging gaps for you all to see."
Another legend joining the party is Leon Ware, who gives a beautiful performance on the sensual "Line In The Sand" doing what Leon does best. Of course, the inimitable Maysa makes an appearance with the laid-back, bittersweet "Your Sun My Sky". Never has a breakup felt so nice. Philadelphia-born Ursula Rucker brings her smart and seductive spoken wordplay (and some quite capable vocals) to the Incognito mixture and the result is intoxicating on the song "Gotta".
Regular Incognito vocalist Joy Rose sings the gorgeous ballad "All of My Life" and brings the house down on one of the strongest songs on the CD, "1975", which is Bluey's shout-out to his influences (Stevie, Santana, Earth Wind & Fire and Marlena Shaw to name a few). This full-fledged, horn-drenched funk workout is very clever and lyrically effective. Tony Momrelle, another of Incognito's regular vocalists, contributes the heartfelt "Make Room For Love", a nice, laidback groove that allows him to show off his supple tenor as it rides a muted trumpet line.
Mario Biondi returns with "Can't Get Enough" where he gets to exercise his husky vocals on a banging track with a breakbeat and a ridiculous piano intro.
With all this high-level vocal power, Bluey saves the best surprise for last, as he takes the vocals on the lilting "Tell Me What To Do". The 4/5 timing is hypnotic and his singing is perfect for this. It really completes the project in a profound way that makes you just want to start the whole journey over.
It is really rare these days to hear music this well produced, with well crafted horn and string arrangements by Bluey, Dan Carpenter, Simon Hale and Matt Cooper. The musicianship is impeccable throughout. It truly harkens back to the '70s heyday of R&B when Gamble & Huff, Earth Wind & Fire, Stevie Wonder and Barry White were giving us regular doses of perfection. Bluey is a champion to always wear these influences woven into his own genius.
In his own words about his affinity for '70s music, Bluey said, "those vinyls transported across the Atlantic had me buzzing like a junky looking for his next hit!" "Transatlantic RPM" is Incognito at its finest. But then again that's the only way Incognito comes to the party.
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.