Incognito – Surreal [Dome Records]

Incognito albums are always good. You can rely on them to be at least that. Sometimes, though, they’re just that bit better, and this is one such.

Part of it, as Bluey explains, is to do with the new studio: the group’s mainstay has been getting to know his recording home well over the past year and has enjoyed tinkering with its finer points to get the exact sound he wants. Thus the drums have a tone and crack about them that recalls the drive of early seventies Kool & The Gang; the bass is round and deep and churning; the horns, which apparently were all played close up to the screen, feel looser, more relaxed and fluid. He’s using a sprinkling of new players too, young guys who are eager to learn and have responded to the education by turning in some superb performances.

But it’s also about the songwriting. Along with Bluey’s different approach to lyrics, there are some hooky melodies going on here. Capricorn Sun, for example, just bounces and skips as Maysa teases every last nuance out of a tune that the old Philly guys would have been thrilled to have supplied. Don’t Wanna Know, on which Mo Brandis combines a youthful pop edge with an obvious penchant for mid-seventies Stevie, just flows along, all shuffling rhythm and liquid brass. The funky, rippling Don’t Break Me Down is so late seventies it could be the great, lost Thelma Houston album track you’ve always wanted to discover – Vanessa Haynes’ vocal is gorgeous, and the sax solo lifts it beautifully towards the end. You’ll love the driving, horn propelled cover of Queen Yahna’s Ain’t It Time, a tune that Bluey picked up on at a Kenny Dope DJ gig in NYC. The two instrumentals are beefy bits of fusion too. All in all, it’s a very fine piece of work. Give this man an O.B.E. And a Grammy while you’re at it.

Chris Wells 5/5