Inner Shade – 4 Corners
Jean Paul “BIuey” Maunick, the founder and heart and soul of Incognito, one of the most popular acid jazz-world beat based bands of the 1990s, has the perfect response to those wondering how he defines the group’s amazing, multifaceted, polyrhythmic sound. We pride ourselves on the fact that we step beyond categorizations, that we’re not strictly acid jazz, soul, Latin or of any ethnic origin, but rather sprite dancing over a groove. We are our ancestors, keeping the music alive, finding new ways to tell the story again.
That spirit thrives at the core of 4 Comers, the debut by Inner Shade, a new Maunick-produced band whose first release marks the launch of his own label, Rice Records. Distributed by N2K Encoded Music here in America, 4 Corners was released in Japan in the summer of 1998, where it has been a huge success, spawning two hit singles. The name of Maunick’s company is a simple reflection of the way he views the role of music in our lives, as a staple of our spiritual diets just as rice is a staple of our bodily diets.
Maunick’s ongoing fulfillment of his notion that music feeds the soul has been a source of excitement for fans of Incognito since the band broke big in 1991 with inside Life. Featuring several key members of that band, including Maunick himself and the popular singer Maysa, along with the brilliant electric lead guitar of Mark Whitfield and Maunick’s son Daniel cutting up the beats, Inner Shade offers an exciting, innovative twist on the melange of styles Maunick’s devotees have come to expect. His goals in creating the band were to give himself a certain family type atmosphere with musicians he knew he worked well with, but to build upon that with outside musicians and musical ideas he had never tackled before. The other core musicians on 4 Comers are reedsmen Chris Demargary and Ed Jones, and bassist Randy Hope-Taylor.
It’s all about evolution, the sound of one band begetting the genesis of that of another,” says the native of the African island of Mauritius. With a new label. I thought the easiest way to get my feet wet was to blend the familiar with the prospects of new blood and new ideas, and Mark and Daniel are a big part of that, complements to the great players I have known for so many years. The idea of Inner Shade is another one of my philosophies that no matter what we look like, no matter where we are~from, music shows the most important parts of us, the inner colors of ourselves, the flavors within. It’s a real melting pot of people and ideas. People can call the music Inner Shade makes jazz, R&B, funk, acid jazz, Latin, Brazilian, whaever, to me, to us, it’s dust musics
As head of his own label, Maunick now has the opportunity to guide projects apart from the built- in expectations of A&R executives and longtime fans of his “other” band. Ill loved experimenting without the fear of having to replicate any sort of ‘hit sound’ of the pasty he says, And the reality that I could go out into new directions, which is essential for creative growth. As far as having some of the same players we are all musicians and composers and easily come up with ten times more material than we need for a typical single album. Inner Shade was a way to keep my family of musicians challenged, busy and forward-thinking. I loved not having to answer to a higher authority. It was definitely liberating.
Mark Whitfield has been a hugely successful young lion of jazz guitar for nearly ten years, and Maunick knew that he would make a good guest leader for the band’s debut (future Inner Shade projects will feature other prominent guests from outside the “family” as well). Just as my son Daniel added a certain percussive element I never tried before, there were no guitar solos in Incognito. This was an area I knew I wanted to take a stand. Mark is on the same label, and I’d run into him at the Verve Records office, and we got to know each other and were mutual fans of one another. I’ve worked with~George Benson and Mark reminds me of a younger version of him. He’s worked hard to achieve his success and has been a great influence on all of us.
Describing the songs on Inner Shade on a one by one basis is a bit like talking about the brilliant, evershifting~shades in between the solid stripes of a rainbow. The orchestral intro Dinner Spacer leads into the first tune Four Corners, a funky piano rift evolving into a retro-funk Jam which trades off WhitfieJd’s fiery electrode with Maysa Leak’s vocals on the theme of global harmony. On a brassy spin off Freddie Hubbard’s classic ‘Little Sunflowers Eshan’s blistering drums and Daniel Maunick’s percussion effects form a hypnotic bed under a swirl of horns, piano harmony, flute melodies, and a Wes Montgomery-style solo by Whitfield. Wood to Mood” gives us a taste of the Trio thing” mixed with a zesty South African soul flavor, an optimistic lovelorn bossa nova which shifts later into a modern, drum ‘n’ bass groove.
The bluest, R&B drenched Operator, featuring Maysa emoting about the musician’s life on the road, brings to mind the classic ’70s horn band style of Earth, Wind & Fire and Tower of Power. The decade also comes to life on the sassy bouncing funk of the Chris Ballin-sung reconciliation tune Are You with Me.” Another touch of the blues thisblues this time complemented with a tasty Fender Rhodes vibe comes alive with some Alto production effects on the cool, groovin’ instrumental ‘What’s in the Box’ before the laid back, mid tempo ‘Tell Me Something enhances our understanding of what it’s like to be alone and vibin’ in Osaka, Japan. Rounding out the set are the feisty colorful jazz-Latin-R&B horn-orchestral-tinged jam “Heaven” la celebration featuring Whitfleld in the lead) and the wistful, edgy funk of “Loose Cannon,r which combines spacey sound effects, electric jazz and thick doses of funk.
Since picking up his first homemade guitar in his native Mauritius, and hearing the sweet Inspirations of Herbie Hancock, Lonnie Liston Smith, Roy Ayers and Tania Maria, Bluey Maunick who later picked up piano and the knack for composing knew that Jazz funk and all points in between was his calling.
In the late ’70s, Jean-Paul, BIuey, Maunick and Paul ‘Tubbs’ Williams formed a band called Light of the World (LOTW), taking the funk of the era a step further. In 1977, they released their debut album, LOTW, which featured their first hit Swinging; in 1980 they released Round Trip which included London Town, “Time” and the cover of “I Shot the Sheriffs which became their biggest UK hit.
LOTW had moderate commercial success but a big cult following, which led in 1980 to forming a new musical project, Incognito. Their first release ‘Parisienne Girl’ was followed by a debut album, Jazz Funk, in 1981. Later the same year, Incognito re-appeared under the name The Warriors and they released the album called Behind the Mask, featuring the British jazz funk classic “Destination”.
During the following years, both Maunick and Tubbs were busy with other projects outside Incognito; Tubbs left for Finland and later worked with Working Week ~ Co., and Maunick was involved in a few production projects while continuing to write material for his musical dream, Incognito. At the time, the famous London DJ called Gilles Peterson was in the process of setting up the Talkin’ Loud label for Polygram. Peterson heard some demo tapes that Maunick had been on and signed him on his new label.
1991 brought Feel Me, followed by the album Inside Life. After this, the group was re-organized, and Maunick asked Baltimore native and current London resident Maysa Leak to Join the group. She had previously worked as a background singer behind, among others, Stevie Wonder. In 1992 Incognito released the album Tribes, Vibes and Scnbes which stayed in the Billboard Contemporary Jazz Top 25 chart for 16 weeks. The new album featured a cover of Stevie Wonder’s old classic “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing,” which was a major hit for the group. Later the same year, the Jaw Funk album was re-released on CD, this time featuring their first single “Parisienne Girl” (which didn’t appear on the initial release).
Two years later, 1994, came Positivity, which achieved gold or silver status in 11 countries worldwide, reaching #2 on the Contemporary Jazz chart where it stayed for over a year. It showed Maysa’s great maturity as a vocalist capable of commanding performances from the hit “Deep Waters and Still a Friend of Mine.r Maysa became the focal point of Incognito’s live shows, converting audiences worldwide with her vocal strength and her own distinctive emotive style, encapsulating soul, jazz and a hint of the blues.
After the success of Positivity Maysa left the band for a solo career. Her album, simply called Maysa, was released in 1995 on Blue Thumb/GRP Records. She co-wrote several of the songs on the album together with former Incognito writer/programmer/musician Richard Bull. Maunick took the opportunity to change the sound of Incognito towards a more orchestral approach with less brass and more strings. On the vocal side, he also wanted to shift it in a more aggressive direction, as he had done with Jocelyn Brown on ‘Always’. There’d The new Incognito formation could be heard on the single “Everyday,” featuring Pamela Anderson, which was released in the summer of 1995, and the subsequent album 100 degrees and Rising
Remixing Incognito was something that many DJs had always wanted to do, and in 1996, some of the best DJs and remixers in the business were asked to contribute to the new album. The first single from the album was a completely new song called “Jump to My Love,” a catchy piece originally written by Incognito for a Japanese Toyota TV advertisement. Appropriately titled Remixed, the album consisted of old and new remixes of classic Incognito songs, and was released in March 1996 to become a dancefloor hit.
In September 1996, “Out of the Storm” the first single off “Beneath the Surface” which marked the return of Maysa was released. New additions to the front vocals were Chris Ballin and Imani, both putting their personal touch to the sound. Their 19g6/1997 world tour kicked off in South America in October and was followed by several performances in Europe. In Tokyo, Japan, three live concerts were recorded, and these were released in October 1997 as Incognito’s first live album, Last Night In Tokyo.
Maunick explains his desire to start his own label and helm the Inner Shade project simply: “A musician needs to be pushed and stretched, and to be on top of his creative self must work towards the next stage of his career. As the music evolves, I realize there is so much more to learn and do.”
Inner Shade’s debut 4 Corners marks the beginning of Bluey Maunick’s next creative phase, and as with all previous endeavors, mines both the heart and soul with an overwhelming sense of universal love and endless, glorious groove.