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An acid jazz project with surprisingly deep roots in the 1970s jazz/funk/fusion world, Incognito were originally formed by Jean-Paul Maunick (aka Bluey) and Paul "Tubbs" Williams. Both were leaders of the late-'70s disco-funk group Light of the World, who scored several moderate British hits, including a cover of "I Shot the Sheriff." Just after the release of Light of the World's third LP (Check Us Out), Maunick and Williams shifted the lineup slightly and renamed the conglomeration Incognito. A decade separated their first and second albums, but from the early '90s through the early 2010s, the group recorded at a steady rate and stuck to their colorful hybrid sound.
Incognito debuted with the single "Parisienne Girl" and released the 1981 LP Jazz Funk, but were inactive during the rest of the 1980s. Maunick continued to write material for his group, even while working with Maxi Priest and others. (Williams later moved to Finland.) By the beginning of the 1990s, DJ legend and early Incognito fan Gilles Peterson had founded the Talkin' Loud label and he made Incognito one of his first signings. Their 1991 update of Ronnie Laws' "Always There," featuring lead vocals by Jocelyn Brown, became a Top Ten hit as part of Britain's booming acid jazz scene, prompting the release of Incognito's second album overall, Inside Life. It was largely a studio affair, with Maunick and engineer Simon Cotsworth directing a large cast with many of the best musicians in Britain's fertile groove community.
With 1992's Tribes Vibes + Scribes, Maunick added vocalist Maysa Leak to the lineup. A cover of Stevie Wonder's "Don't You Worry 'Bout a Thing" became another Incognito hit, and the album ascended Britain's pop charts even as it rose on America's contemporary jazz charts. The third album, Positivity, became the group's biggest album success, with much attention across Europe as well as Britain. Leak unsuccessfully attempted a solo career with Blue Note, leading to temporary vocal replacement Pamela Anderson (not the Baywatch pinup) on 1995's 100° and Rising. Leak returned, though, appearing on the following year's Beneath the Surface. During the latter half of the decade, Incognito expanded their discography with 1996's Remixed, 1998's Tokyo Live, and 1999's No Time Like the Future.
The group's first two albums of the 2000s, Life Stranger Than Fiction (2001) and Who Needs Love (2002), were made without Leak. The latter, the first of several releases for the Dome label, featured Brazilian vocalist Ed Motta. Leak returned for Adventures in Black Sunshine (2004), a set that also boasted a guest appearance from longtime Incognito inspiration George Duke. Bees + Flowers + Things (2006) was a mix of cover versions along with re-recordings of four Incognito classics. More Tales Remixed (2008) involved remixes from Dimitri from Paris and Mark de Clive-Lowe, among others.
Incognito began the 2010s by acknowledging a major group milestone, most notably with the two-CD Live in London: The 30th Anniversary Concert, as well as their 14th studio set, Transatlantic R.P.M., featuring performances from Chaka Khan, Mario Biondi, Leon Ware, Ursula Rucker, and Leak. Surreal (2012) was followed by Bluey's first proper solo album, Leap of Faith (2013), while Amplified Soul (2014) -- one of the group's several releases to exceed an hour in length -- showed that their productivity was hardly on the wane. 2016 saw the band release its 17th studio long-player, In Search of Better Days, which featured guest artists pianist Avery Sunshine, drummer Richard Spaven, percussionist Jody Linscott, and Japanese guitar legend Tomoyasu Hotei.
~ John Bush & Andy Kellman