For the next four weeks, DeepSoul will explore the world of Acid Jazz. A combination of jazz and R&B, it evolves from 1970s fusion (think Miles Davis' landmark Bitches Brew) and incorporates elements of hip hop, dance, and international rhythms. The result is a genre which became popular in Britain, although it experienced only minor success in the United States. Incognito introduced listeners to this form through their 1981 release Jazz Funk, a mostly instrumental collection that sounded exactly as the title implies. By 1988 the term Acid Jazz emerged, partially because of a compilation series that featured jazz and funk from the 1970s (also known as "Rare Groove" in the UK). From the late 1980s until today, a number of groups have entered the scene, combining all of the aforementioned elements into one pleasant--and soulful--sounding stew.
Appropriately the series kicks off with Incognito, the international group formed by Jean-Paul "Bluey" Maunick and Paul "Tubbs" Williams. After releasing Jazz Funk, Williams left the band, and Maunick wrote for other artists. In 1990, DJ and Incognito fan Gilles Peterson founded his Talkin' Loud label, and convinced Maunick to revive the group for the label. From then on Incognito has never looked back, releasing numerous albums over a 30-year period. The band has seen a great deal of turnover, although one of their mainstays is Maysa Leak, a deep-voiced vocalist that spans soul and jazz with ease. While choosing one song to feature poses a challenge, I have selected the track that first introduced me to the group: "Deep Waters," from their 1994 album Positivity.
Written by Richard Bull and Manuick, the sensual tune serves as a showcase for Leak's honeyed vocals, her voice gliding like silk over a tasteful arrangement. "Is it a crime / For me to be feeling this way?" she asks, the keyboards playing jazz runs behind her. As the song progresses, she expresses how love has dominated her life: "I'm losing control / Body and soul / Standing here waiting for a train that may never come," she croons. The chorus emphasizes this point, a soft trumpet accenting her longing: "Deep waters, I'm drowning in / Deep waters, slowly drowning in deeper." Similar to a Quincy Jones production, each subsequent listen reveals a layered element of the track: a seemingly random note, Leak's voice lingering over certain syllables, or the shuffling drums.
The song received some airplay on contemporary jazz and R&B stations, providing Incognito some exposure in the US. After hearing "Deep Waters" I transformed into an Incognito fan, searching out all their albums. In turn, I was swimming deeper and deeper into the waters of Acid Jazz.