Recently, I was listening to a Masters At Work 10th Anniversary Collection box set and on that box set, were two remixes of tracks by the band I am about to write about. The band is Incognito and the tracks were Always There and Nights Over Egypt from their 1999 album No Time Like The Future. This was a great album by a band who have been together since 1979 and have recorded fourteen studio albums. No Time Like The Future was their seventh studio album and was one of their most successful ever. I will now tell you about the band and their wonderful album No Time Like The Future.

Incognito were formed in 1980 by Jean-Paul “Bluey” Maunick. Bluey was by now, an experienced musician, having previously been in bands from an early age. Previous bands included New Life and 1970s jazz funk band Light of the World. In 1978 Light of the World signed to Ensign Records and released their self titled album Light of the World. The album included the tracks Midnight Groovin’ and Swingin’ and was both critically acclaimed and commercially successful.

In 1980 Bluey and Paul “Tubs” Williams decided to form Incognito. Again, the group signed to Ensign Records and in 1981 released their debut album Jazz Funk, which included some highly respected musicians. This included drummer Jeff Dunn, who would later play with Van Morrison and Peter Hinds on keyboards. The album reached number twenty-eight in the UK album charts. Not long after, Incognito would split up.

It would be 1991 before Incognito released their second album Inside Life. In the intervening years, Bluey had been recording tracks at home, including most of Inside Life. A chance meeting with legendary dj Giles Peterson at The Southport Weekender saw Incognito sign to Peterson’s Talkin Loud label. Peterson was able to bring together Jocelyn Brown and Incognito, a partnership that would proved fruitful for both parties. Inside Life was released and reached number forty-four in the UK album charts.

Incognito became really successful after the release of their third album, Tribes, Vibes and Scribes, which was their second for new label Talkin Loud. The album featured the wonderful Maysa Leak singing lead vocal on a cover of the Stevie Wonder song Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing. A track from the album took the US by storm. This was an instrumental entitled L’arc En Ciel De Miles received massive airplay on US Quiet Storm Radio, and gave the band a huge hit. The album was well received in the UK and reached number forty-one in the album charts. 

1993 saw the band release their next album Positivity. A track from this album, Deep Waters, would provide the band with another hit in the US. This great track now is now a smooth jazz classic. Although the album includes many great tracks, two of the best are Givin’ It Up and Still A Friend of Mine. Positivity reached number fifty-five in the UK album charts, and sold one-million albums worldwide.

Incognito’s next album was 100* and Rising which was released in 1995. This album saw Bluey record the album at the Abbey Road Studios and use a full string section. Two tracks on the album Everyday and I Hear Your Name would later be remixed by two of the biggest producers, Masters At Work and Roger Sanchez. Stevie Wonder would add harmonica to a remix of I Hear Your Name. These remixes were all part of introducing Incognito’s fantastic music to a wider audience. 100* and Rising was their biggest chart success reaching number eleven in the UK album charts.

It would be two years before Incognito released another album. 1997 saw Incognito release Beneath the Surface. Again, Maysa Leak would feature on vocals, and the album featured Bluey’s trademark polished production. By this time, the band had a huge live following and were one of the most in-demand acts around.

The album this article is about, No Time Like the Future was released in 1999. It was to prove a massive success for Incognito, and saw Karen Bernod, Maysa Leak and Jocelyn Brown feature on lead vocals. The album featured a cover of The Jones Girls classic Nights Over Egypt. Also on the album are Wild and Peaceful, Marrakech and Fearless. No Time Like the Future is my favorite Incognito album, and was an album that saw the band’s popularity soar. I will shortly tell you what makes No Time Like the Future such a special album, and one that twelve years later, sounds as fresh as it did on its release.

A new millennium saw Incognito continue to regularly release albums. Each album was packed full of great music. 2001 saw the release of Life, Stranger Than Fiction. On this album their are five new additions on lead vocal. This includes former Sade backing singer Tony Momrelle, Sarah Brown, Keli Sae, Xavier Barnett and Dianna Joseph.

Life, Stranger Than Fiction was followed up with 2002’s Who Needs Love. Two high profile guests featured on this album. Ed Motta played on the album’s opening track Who Neeeds Love? Paul Weller played acoustic guitar on the instrumental Blue. 

Adventures In Black Sunshine was released to celebrate Incognito’s twenty-fifth anniversary, in 2004. Maysa Leak sung lead vocal on seven tracks including a cover version of the Doobie Brothers song Listen To the Music. George Duke also played keyboards on the album. This album saw three instrumentals included, bring back memories of their early albums and Light of the World.

Since then, four further studio albums have been released. In 2005 Eleven was released on Dome Records and  featured Maysa Leak, Tony Momrelle and Imaani all taking turns on lead vocals.

Eleven was followed by Bees-Things-Flowers in 2006 on Dome Records. Here Incognito would revisit some of their classic tracks and include a number of cover versions. The classics included Always There featuring Jocelyn Brown on lead vocal, Deep Water and Still A Friend of Mine. Cover versions would include Roy Ayers’ Everybody Loves the Sunshine and Summer In the City by Seals and Croft and Earth, Wind and Fire’s, That’s the Way of the World.

Tales From the Beach was Incognito’s next album. It was released in 2008. Once again, vocals were shared by Tony Momrelle, Imaani and a Joy Rose. The album was packed full of danceable tracks, and took Incognito towards their thirtieth anniversary nicely.

The last album they released was 2010’s Transatlantic RPM on Dome Records. This album saw Incognito celebrate their thirtieth anniversary. Some illustrious guest vocalists joined Incognito on Transatlantic RPM. Chaka Khan sang a duet with Mario Biondi on Lowdown, a Boz Scaggs track. She also featured on The Song, and Mario Biondi featured on I Can’t Get Enough. Other guests included Ursula Rucker on Gotta and Leon Ware on the beautiful ballad Line In the Sand. This album was a fitting way for Incognito to celebrate thirty years in the music business. They were recognized by their contemporaries and peers as a group who, during their thirty year existence, had recorded and released so much wonderful music.

Having told you about Incognito’s history, I will now tell you about No Time Like The Future, and why this album deserves a place in your record collection. The first track is Wild and Peaceful. Wild and Peaceful features a long, meandering and glorious instrumental introduction. Piano, drums, and keyboards are just some of the instruments that you hear. Just when you think it cannot get any better, it does. Maysa Leak sings lead vocal, and in doing so, brings life and meaning to the song. She has been one of Bluey’s best discoveries and biggest assets. She has a fabulous soulful voice, a voice that is perfectly suited to the song. She is ably aided and abetted by some great backing vocals, and together, all of this makes a great song, and a great start to No Time Like The Future.

Get Into My Groove is a delicious slice of soul, jazz and funk. It has the funkiest, most uplifting introduction. Quickly, the vocal enters and this leads to one of the most joyful sounding tracks on this album. However, if you take time to listen to the lyrics, they feature some insightful lyrics about false and broken promises made by world leaders and power-brokers, and the harm their broken promises have caused. Bluey seems to have achieved the impossible here. He has written a joyous sounding song, featuring lyrics with righteous indignation. Billy Bragg could never have achieved this!

it Ain’t Easy has a slightly slower tempo than the previous two tracks. Jocelyn Brown takes over vocal duties, and sings a song about the complicated nature of relationships. In the song she details how we all struggle to figure what is going on in each other’s minds, and how we end up spending ages trying to read the signs, trying to discover what the other is thinking. This a song that anyone who has ever been in a relationship can, or should be able to relate to. We have all been there, especially at the early stages of a relationship, wondering what our partner is thinking, wondering have I done or said the wrong thing? Bluey has managed to describe this feeling perfectly in six and a quarter minutes. So as well as providing us with some great music, he also offers guidance on relationships. A great song, one that we can all relate to.

The next track on the album is Marrakesh, one of the best, and I would go as far to say, that this is a classic Incognito track. It starts slowly, and smolders, it is enigmatic, moody and totally beautiful. Marrakech transports you far away, to somewhere warm, exotic, and full of promise, with someone you love. You are taken away from drudgery, boredom, routine and I suppose, normality, to somewhere that sounds like paradise. Since I first heard this album, I have always loved and cherished the smoldering beauty of Marrakech.

Fearless starts with a male vocalists singing one note in unison, this continues, then reappears, intermittently, all behind a backdrop of lovely rhythms. Thankfully, we are spared this annoying backdrop for a while, and then it reappears. It is not effective, just annoying, very annoying. After a while it really grates. It spoils the rest of the track. Take out the vocal and you have a great track. I have always felt that this spoils the song. 

Nights Over Egypt sees Incognito cover the old Jones Girls classic Nights Over Egypt. This could be a difficult task, after all, how do you improve a Philadelphia classic? Incognito get round this problem easily. They reinterpret song. The vocal is exquisite and is accompanied by a band who really swing. Behind all of this is some house influenced drum beats. This puts a new twist on a classic song, and is a dance-floor classic, especially the Masters At Work remix. When I first listened to this track I approached it with trepidation. After all I love the original, and I did not see how this could be either equaled or better. I need not have worried, Bluey has taken a classic song and reinterpreted it wonderfully.

Centre of the Sun is a slow burner, it starts quietly, gently, with Maysa Leak singing beautifully in front of the rest of the band. On the track, she displays her vocal versatility. Quite simply, she has the voice of an angel. The song is one about love lost, when you meet who you think is the one, but it proves not to be the case. After, comes the pain, the pain of losing someone, having to get over the pain and hurt, and learning to love again. This is what happens here, she meets someone and learns to love again. A great song, well song by Maysa, and a nice contrast from some of the faster songs on the album.

More of Myself is a song with a spacious arrangement. Incognito play slowly, leaving lots of space within the arrangement. This applies to the vocal. It is sung slowly, and quite wonderfully. The vocal’s quality is added to, by the backing singers, who compliment the vocal perfectly.  Like the previous song this is a relationship song, albeit one where there appears to be a happier ending. 

The penultimate song on the album is I Can See the Future, has almost a jazz funk feel and sound to it. The song is mostly instrumental, with the bank showcasing their collective and individual talents. Occasionally, the song is punctuated by melodic vocals, when the vocalists sing short bursts of lyrics. It is a good song, one that is quite different to the majority of tracks on the album. I Can See the Future is Incognito revisiting their roots, and doing so with aplomb.

No Time Like The Future closes with Black Rain. This is a track that takes a while to come to life. When it does, the drums have a drum and bass sound to them. They play, whilst in the distance keyboards repeat the same melody. Then strings begin to make an appearance, and are joined by an infrequent spoken word sample. Black Rain is a long track, and has an experimental sound and feel to it. I have always imagined it as part of a film soundtrack, as it has an atmospheric, almost broody sound, with an air of mystery to it. For me it was a strange choice to close the album. In my opinion, this would have been better as the penultimate track, and I Can See the Future closing the album. When i listen to the album, and hear this track close the album I always feel short changed, and I am left thinking that it is not up to the standard of the other tracks. However, that does not mean it is a poor track, no, it is a track that sees Incognito pushing musical boundaries, and trying something new and different.

Since I decided to write this article, I have spent a while revisiting Incognito’s back catalogue. This was a pleasure. I have always loved their music, right back since the days of Light of the World. No Time Like The Future was one of many high-points in Incognito’s history. They are a band who have been producing music for over thirty years, and during that period, have been an innovative and pioneering group. Much of this is down to Bluey’s creativity and imagination. He is a hugely talented musician, arranger and producer. This album was an example of his innovation and creativity. He took a number of highly talented musicians, and vocalists like, Jocelyn Brown and Maysa Leak and brought out the best in them, and in the process produced an album that sounds as good today as it did in 1999. Standout Tracks: Wild and Peaceful, Get Into My Groove, Marrakesh and Nights Over Egypt.


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