Jazz/funk pioneers Incognito have been together for 30 years, helping to spark the UK’s acid jazz movement. Co-founded by Jean-Paul “Bluey” Maunick, the group boasts international singers and musicians that incorporate jazz, R&B, and world music influences to create an often catchy sound. Their last album, 2008′s Tales from the Beach, signaled a creative renaissance for the group in lyrical content. Transatlantic R.P.M., Incognito’s new CD, targets a broader audience with more soul and even rap content than before, with mixed results.
One element that marks Incognito’s different approach is the presence of R&B legend Chaka Khan, who appears on two songs: “Lowdown,” a cover of the Boz Scaggs classic, and “The Song,” co-written by Khan. As usual, Khan’s voice is in fine form, particularly on the latter tune, which sounds like a mellow Rufus outtake. Her duet with Mario Biondi on “Lowdown,” however, will not erase the original from anyone’s memory.
In an obvious attempt to appeal to larger audiences, the group incorporates rap on “Everything That We Are.” The groove, slightly reminiscent of an Earth, Wind and Fire ’70s jam, is pleasing, but the rapping seems somewhat superfluous. But the retro soul vibe continues on the upbeat “1975,” with vocalist Joy Rose waxing nostalgic on artists such as Roberta Flack, Stevie Wonder, Santana, Earth, Wind and Fire, and Herbie Hancock. “1975″ is a fun ode to “when boogie brought down the house,” as Rose sings, and one wishes more tracks on Transatlantic R.P.M. contained this much joy and spirited playing.
The funk guitar and uptempo beat on “Let’s Fall in Love” encapsulates the classic Incognito sound, featuring John-Christian Urich’s jazz-tinged vocals. The track nicely balances soul and jazz to create a danceable tune. “Put A Little Lovin’ in Your Heart” echoes old-school soul with its funky bass line and horn accents, but injects a modern, club-friendly beat into the proceedings.
While Transatlantic R.P.M. contains some enjoyable tunes, it also includes too many indistinct ones like “All of My Life,” “Line in the Sand,” and “Gotta”—Incognito performs them well, but they represent catchy grooves that never quite reach a climax. “The Winter of My Springs,” at only 44 seconds, intrigues with its scatting vocals and heavy beat, but ends all too soon.
Incognito mainstay Maysa returns for only one track, the laid-back “Your Sun, My Sky.” Although the song features her distinctive, smoky vocal style, it lacks the rhythmic punch of the Tales from the Beach cut “I’ve Been Waiting.” More tracks could have used her jazz-kissed, deep voice.
Revisiting their jazz fusion roots, Bluey and company cook on “Expresso Madureira,” with its Latin percussion and blaring trumpet solos. “Life Ain’t Nothing But A Good Thing” also allows the band to engage in extended jamming; the song would have actually made a great instrumental, as the vocals add little to the tune.
Similar to their 2006 release Bees + Things + Flowers, Transatlantic R.P.M. seems a bit unfocused and overly concerned with trying to please broader musical tastes. Incognito’s strengths lie in fusing jazz, R&B, and world beats to create their unique mixture. Their new album contains some interesting moments, but it is not representative of their best work. Hopefully they will return to the deeper lyrical content and distinctive grooves of Tales from the Beach in the future.