A spy in the house of soul

Local R&B visionary Jacovia is on a covert mission to find a new sound

Jacovia, striking a balance between the sacred and the profane.

Jacovia, striking a balance between the sacred and the profane.

Once upon a time, when the Bee Gees were riding the top of the charts in the late 1970s, the group appeared on The Tonight Show. At one point, then-host Johnny Carson buttered the group up with that immortal talk-show softball, “Uh, gee, how do you guys do it?”

“Well, Johnny,” one of the brothers Gibb offered after a moment of reflection, “you’ve got to stay now.”

It’s a formula that hasn’t changed, this now-ness, this awareness of all things contemporary. Jacovia, an upcoming R&B singer based here in Sacramento, understands this. “You’ve got to be mainstream today,” he explains over a steak sandwich inside that stylish Midtown bistro, Nationwide Freezer Meats. “You have to be somewhat mainstream; it’s not a similar sound that everyone has today, but there’s a certain DNA on the tracks. Because if you become too crazy on the songs, people can’t relate to it.”

“Basically, the album Jacovia did, he didn’t do it completely true to himself,” says the woman sitting next to him, an attractive strawberry-blonde named Seracy who co-wrote some songs on the disc and who identifies herself as Jacovia’s business partner. It’s a bit of a conversational bombshell, and Jacovia immediately recognizes it might be perceived as a faux pas. “I listened to the latest hits,” he jumps in, “and I tried to develop my style around that—and fit it in to what’s going on now.”

Nice save.

Of course, the words “derivative” and “debut album” aren’t necessarily, when linked together, indicative of criminal behavior. In the case of the curiously titled CD Cove-rt Operations, which Jacovia and Seracy released on their Tower/Bayside-distributed label PlayWidEase Productions, the straight-up disc of steamy bedroom funk has enough original encoding—what the artist might call “DNA”—to set it apart from anything reasonably larcenous.

Cove-rt Operations (the title is a play on the 20-something Jacovia’s nickname, “Cove,” which dates back to his childhood in Buffalo, New York) may not be Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, but there’s some startling originality in its grooves. Sure, the singer’s gospel-tinged vocal harmonies are similar to a lot of the minor/diminished/seventh/minor progressions common to so much modern R&B, but there’s something in the way he voices them—mixed hot, up front and swirling—that makes the ears perk up. And while the beats may be a bit on the minimalist side, you have to keep in mind that Jacovia recorded these tracks on his desktop computer; for a disc cut on a shoestring, it’s pretty impressive.

In fact, it’s a good enough first step that it isn’t difficult to imagine Jacovia landing some kind of Jermaine Dupri-style label deal with a major label at some point. He’s already begun planning his second album, he’s got a disc from Seracy (who duets with him on his album’s “Sex Yo Body”) set to drop in early spring, and he’s writing and producing for a boy band called Kyniption. To get their empire rolling, he and Seracy came up with “Operation Helping Hand,” a charity outreach in which they have earmarked all the profits through February from his current disc to be directed to the theater group Celebration Arts and to the Mother Support Network.

And because the world is always looking for a new soul-singing heir apparent—think D’Angelo, or Maxwell—Jacovia, by admission an incurable romantic, has his next mission calculated. “I’m gonna bring my love songs out,” he confesses. “And put a lot of that sexuality and love down, but my own way, with my own harmonic structure.”