Jean-Paul “Bluey” Maunick is one soulful man. No wonder he’s revered the way he is within the UK jazz/soul scene. He’s been father and son to the scene for over 30 years. The years have been kind to him, and the kindness is reciprocated on his solo debut Leap of Faith. An undoubtedly listenable creation, Bluey has blended the club-infused soul-jazz sounds that made him famous with the sensibility of an elder statesman, which he is. And he’s earned that title righteously, having worked with the likes of James Brown, Stevie Wonder, George Duke, and more in a long, drawn-out resume’ of funky so-and-sos. Leap of Faith demonstrates what those star encounters impressed upon Maunick’s own flavor of music, making this solo effort a surprisingly original tribute to form, nodding to the masters of the past while carrying the torch the rest of the way.
Bluey’s long-standing group Incognito famously picked up the ball and ran with it from the early ‘80s to 2012 with an impressive string of releases in the acid-jazz vein, a genre Maunick helped create. Musically, Leap of Faith isn’t far removed from past Incognito releases. The main difference between Maunick’s work with his band and this solo venture is the absence of female voices, and more presence of his tasteful guitar work. There’s no major climactic highlight to report on one individual song here. Instead, it’s one cohesive album that doesn’t intrude into personal space… more so than any previous Incognito effort. If the band is the definition of acid-jazz, then Bluey solo is the epitome of metropolitan soul. This individual signature meshes the songs together matrimonially, from the opening track “Stronger” to the title track at the end of the disc. Therefore, the standard practice of reviewing individual tracks through a critical ear doesn’t apply here. With Leap of Faith, you’re along for the ride. Right on.
Maunick wears his influences on his sleeve on this outing, but that’s not a bad thing. He effortlessly channels Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, and Ray Parker Jr. in his Raydio days, making this record an easy fit into any Sunday morning feel-good rotation. He doesn’t disregard the club feeling within acid-jazz on Leap of Faith (“Ain’t Nobody’s Business” and “Why Did I Let You Go” tap into that house flavor), but the concentration here is on soul. And soul it is, from the music to the words. Lyrically, the songs rely heavily on cliché, turning standard R&B phrases as often as a drive-thru window attendant asks “would you like fries with that”. With that said, it should also be considered that sometimes it’s not what you say. It’s how you say it. Bluey’s subtlety in vocal delivery coupled with exquisite production values makes the predictability of verse more of an intuitive sing-along on the first listen, as if you’ve already heard these songs before… all of them. This makes for an extremely relaxing sonic journey… as comfortable as kicking back in a plush rocker-recliner with a built-in back massager. Ahh, and it feels so nice.