NOTHING disrupts a recording session quite like a flood, Incognito founder Jean-Paul "Bluey" Maunick recently discovered. Unless it's two floods.
Twice in the past two years, his basement studio in London was damaged by water gushing from a backed-up drain, delaying production of the band's new album "No Time Like the Future." When the cost of the deluges was finally tallied, Maunick had lost one studio, tons of equipment and a lot of recording time.
"We've moved to the first floor of a building now," Maunick cheerfully reportsfrom a tour stop in Atlanta. "Finally, we are above ground."
As it turned out, the floods proved a blessing in disguise for the British-based ensemble, which performs at the Warner Theatre on Sunday night. When word spread of Incognito's plight, dozens of musicians dropped by his studio to lend a hand.
"I didn't know I had so many friends," Maunick says, adding that he couldn't help but invite them to perform on the new album when recording resumed. "That's how we ended up with over 70 musicians involved with the new album. Once I got started recording again, I felt almost joy. It was like a cleansing of my mind."
Collaborating with a large cast of musicians is nothing new for Maunick. He estimates that Incognito, which helped spearhead the alternately dubbed acid jazz, jazz funk, new soul movement on both sides of the Atlantic, has worked with more than 1,000 musicians since 1980. Not surprisingly, he views Incognito not as a band so much as an ever-changing collective, composed of musicians who bring a broad variety of influences to the musical mix.
One of the keys to the band's eclectic sound can be found in the casting, he says. "Our drummer is from Trinidad, our percussionist is from Africa, I'm from Mauritius. There's English, Irish and Scottish [musicians], two Americans and others -- that's going to reflect different things. I want them to bring their culture to the table."
Incognito's new album also boasts the fiery horn section from the Cuban ensemble Irakere and three vocalists -- Maysa Leak, Jocelyn Brown and newcomer Karen Bernod -- who bring contrasting yet complementary tones to the arrangements. Says Maunick, "I wanted to have three strong singers come together and help bring different textures and sounds to the listener."
The more contrasts and layers, the better, Maunick adds. He often points to Marvin Gaye's 1971 album "What's Goin' On" as a prime example of sophisticated soul music that continues to surprise and inspire. "The strings, vocals, horns, drums, keyboards, guitars, congas -- I'd thought to myself, `This is so rich.' And even now when I listen to it I find little things in there -- little gems, you know."
Born in 1957, Maunick, who plays guitar in the band, thinks the music he listened to in the '60s and '70s had a profound impact on the way he viewed the world as a young man and musician -- and the way he continues to view it. And not just soul music, either.
"What people forget about the '60s is that it wasn't about the tie-dyed shirts and sandals, it was that it was a time when people were embracing all kinds of things. If you went to a concert, you'd hear all kinds of things -- Jimi Hendrix, Miles [Davis], Latin music from Santana, Joni Mitchell doing folk. I bought all those records. . . . People have become almost isolated about what they buy and what they think now."
Radio trends aren't making things any easier for bands with eclectic tastes, as stations around the country are often locked into tight programming formats.
"They call it `broadcast architecture,' " Maunick chuckles. "So we've lost play in a lot of areas. It's become harder, but I find that a lot of students are picking up on what we are doing, and they are the ones that are carrying the flag."
To keep a fresh perspective, Maunick frequents dance clubs, here as well as in Europe, even though that scene isn't as vital as it once was. "I'm not just a musician. I'm a clubhead," he insists. "I go to clubs two or three times a week. I'm very close to the DJ culture. For most bands, remix albums are a ploy to gain fans. For me, it's always been a chance to work with old friends. When I come out of the clubs early in the morning, I'm excited because I've heard rhythms and things I hadn't heard before."
As for the various labels fans and critics have attached to the band's music, Maunick doesn't pay them much mind. "I've been around long enough to know that titles will come and go," he says. "But the music is still reflective of our worldliness, our journey-making, the inspiration we find from no one place."
INCOGNITO -- Appearing Sunday at the Warner Theatre. * To hear a free Sound Bite from Incognito, call Post-Haste at 202/334-9000 and press 8121. (Prince William residents, call 690-4110.)