"Welcome to the Old School Brand New Heavies!" cries N'Dea Davenport, lead singer of acid jazz band the Brand New Heavies, at the start of what she terms their "welcome home" concert.
Recorded in October 2008 at the Indigo2, Live in London marks the group's first-ever live album. Acid jazz fans rejoiced in 2005, when vocalist Davenport rejoined the Brand New Heavies, the British group that scored a series of hits in England beginning in 1990. Best known in the US for the 1991 single "Never Stop," the Brand New Heavies became leaders in the acid jazz and retro soul movements, predating artists such as Jamiroquai, Maxwell, and Jill Scott. Davenport subsequently exited the group in the mid-90s and a series of lead vocalists (including Siedah Garrett) followed to fill the role. After pursuing a solo career, Davenport returned in 2005 to record the album Get Used to It with her former bandmates. They have performed as a core quartet ever since, and their latest album, Live in London, shows that they haven't missed a step since their '90s heyday.
Along with backing musicians, Brand New Heavies core members Simon Bartholomew, Jan Kincaid, and Andrew Levy kick off the show with two instrumentals, setting the stage for Davenport's triumphant entry. Solid versions of "Never Stop" and "All Fired Up" stick closely to the original versions, although the UK hit "Dream on Dreamer" segues into an uptempo cover of "Midnight at the Oasis" that adds a funky twist to the 1970s single. Speaking of the '70s, the wah-wah pedal driven "Ride in the Sky" will make listeners want to check their calendars to ensure that this is really a 2009 album.
They also illustrate their debt to old school soul with a lovely cover of Stevie Wonder's "I Don't Know Why (I Love You)," which draws a direct parallel to their retro sound. Davenport's voice really shines here, as she uses her powerful range to full emotional effect. She also explores her vocals' sensual tone on "Sex God," which also features an irresistible bass line that really rides the song's slinky groove.
UK fans will enjoy hearing live versions of hits such as "Brother Sister" and "Stay This Way," along with the title track to their 2006 reunion album Let's Do It Again. They do perform some tracks recorded between the time Davenport left and rejoined the band, including "Sometimes" and "You Are the Universe." Throughout the show, the Brand New Heavies remain in top form, with Davenport's vocals sounding almost exactly the same as they did almost 20 years ago. Hearing the stage banter among the band and the repartee with the audience shows their obvious joy in performing together again. She mentions that she wishes the audience to feel at home, and her warm vocals and attitude accomplish just that.
Music aficionados who may not be familiar with the Brand New Heavies will appreciate Live in London for its charmingly unpolished sound (at one point Davenport scolds the lighting technicians for too-bright spotlights) and funky, full-on horns. Earth, Wind, and Fire fans will find much to like as well, as their R&B and jazz influence permeates group's sound. Pick up this album for an enjoyable introduction to acid jazz, and then explore other bands in the genre (for a thorough overview, visit the Acid Jazz Blog). The reunited Brand New Heavies sound in top form, and in the liner notes they promise new material in the near future. Let's hope their next album contains the same uninhibited joy and love of soul as does Live in London.