Archives for posts with tag: Mario Biondi

Album Review: Life Between the Notes, Bluey (Shanachie, April 2015)

5430Listening to Jean-Paul ‘Bluey’ Maunick’s sophomore solo album reveals new depths in a seemingly endless well of musical genius. Like his solo debut, Leap of Faith (Shanachie, 2013), Life Between the Notes features Bluey’s greatest strength, his songwriting, but also illuminates new corners of his talent.

The thoroughly enjoyable title track and others like “Been there Before” and “Trippin’ on this Feelin'” are filled with groove and melody we have come to expect from this master songwriter with remarkable pedigree in jazz, funk, soul, and R&B.

What’s even more exciting than a new crop of songs from Bluey is his entree into jazz vocals that reveal the crooner within. “Sunships on the Shores of Mars” and “Columbus Avenue” have a coolness and ease with jazz vocals that we have come to expect from the likes of Gregory Porter. Bluey joins the club. One can’t help but wonder if Bluey took notes from previous collaborator and jazz vocal legend Al Jarreau himself. Jarreau and Maunick worked together on Mario Biondi’s album, Sun (Columbia, 2013) and hints of Jarreau’s style can be heard on these two tracks.

As with Bluey’s Incognito albums and Leap of Faith, Life Between the Notes is consistent and brings something new on each listen. It’s a fitting addition to an already legendary oeuvre.

 

 

2013 in Review: New, New to Me, and Those We Lost

There were many solid new releases this past year and many had two things in common. First, they were introduced to me via Gilles Peterson’s (@gillespeterson) BBC6 program, Worldwide, a staple in my listening. Second, three of my top 5 were released on Blue Note Records.

New Releases:

Looking back just 12 months, there were so many good albums released that I had enough fodder for a top 10, with Omar’s The Man winning the year.

10. Kon, On My Way
9. Brand New Heavies, Forward
8. Mario Biondi, Sun
7. Alice Russell, To Dust
6. Ed Motta, AOR
5. Jean-Paul ‘Bluey’ Maunick, Leap of Faith
4. Jose James, No Beginning No End
3. Robert Glasper Experiment, Black Radio 2
2. Gregory Porter, Liquid Spirit
1. Omar, The Man

Other notable releases were Quadron’s Avalanche, Da Lata’s Fabiola, Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories, RC & the Gritz’ Pay Your Tab, and Wild Belle’s Isles.

New to me: Rediscovered

Chakha Khan & Rufus – Before Chakha Khan’s 80’s resurgence, her career was launched with the 70’s funk and soul band, Rufus. Their album, Street Player (UMG Recordings, 1978) is a particularly good showcase of the bands smoothness and how well suited Khan’s vocal style is to their music. The track, “Destiny,” is essential listening.

Harvey Mason – I posted a Harvey Mason playlist after discovering this drummer who made his mark on numerous jazz and fusion classics.

Skee-Lo – An oddball find from 1995 when hip-hop albums were so prolific that it was hard to cut through the clutter to find those that would last. Skee-Lo’s album, I Wish (Ultra Moda Music, 1995) holds up today with its pleasing blend of melody and rhyme. It’s also a hip-hop album that’s not afraid to have some fun.

Ben l’Oncle Soul – Neo soul has been played out in my books for some time now. But Ben L’Oncle Soul’s self-titled release (Mercury Music Group, 2010) had a fresh take because a) it’s mostly sung in French; and b) the artist makes the music his own, not trying to mimic crooners from the 60’s and 70’s but celebrating his voice and music in his own way.

Notable Passings

  • Donald Byrd – One of my musical heros. An innovator and prolific melodist. Tributes to him abound on the internet as the year closes out. Nice to see him getting such wide recognition.
  • Stompin’ Tom Connors – A Canadian folk music treasure whose lyrics and music are essential Canadiana
  • George Duke – A keyboardist and innovator in the vein of Donald Byrd and Herbie Hancock
  • Lou Reed – Another innovator and catalyst who influenced rock and punk acts through the 70s and 80s

Most Anticipated in 2014

Q-Tip, The Last Zulu – This project has been on the radar for some time now but it’s hard to nail down a release date amongst the hype out there. The album is said to include, in some form, a reunion of original A Tribe Called Quest members.

Zara McFarlane, If You Knew Her – The follow-up from her excellent 2011 debut Until Tomorrow (Brownswood)

Jose James – His second release on the Blue Note label is in production, according to James’ facebook updates.

Prince, Plectrum Electrum – The recently released (and excellent) single, “Breakfast Can Wait,” will be on the album as will tracks featuring the rock-centered 3rd Eye Girl who are touring with Prince.

Happy, peaceful, and musical New Year!

Album Review: Sun, Mario Biondi (Columbia, 2013)

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Incognito’s Jean-Paul ‘Bluey’ Maunick produced this album, which no doubt drew coveted collaborators Leon Ware, Omar, and Al Jarreau. Chaka Khan also appears on “Lowdown,” previously released on Incognito’s Transatlantic R.P.M. album (Shanachie, 2010). Happily, the album lives up to the great promise this gaggle of musical legends holds.

I came upon Mario Biondi via his popular 2006 release, Handful of Soul (Schema). Cool jazz numbers like “This is what you are” and “On a clear day” were a perfect introduction to a remarkable jazz singing voice, one with as much personality as Sinatra’s or Armstrong’s.

Maunick’s treatment is noticeable on Sun, giving it more of a jazz-funk and soulful sound than the Cool Jazz sound of Handful of Soul. “Girl Blue” is a feel-good tune with the sweeping horn arrangements and backing vocals you’d expect from a great Incognito record. “Shine on,” “Deep space,” and “What have you done to me” are other uptempo tracks that Biondi attacks with relish and makes his own.

“Catch the sunshine” is a perfect melody for Leon Ware’s style but clashes a little with Biondi’s timber, which is too jarring against Ware’s easiness. This would have been a lovely track for Ware to sing solo. Likewise, Biondi’s voice is almost too powerful for the softly written “There’s no one like you.” Mario Biondi can certainly sing ballads but the arrangements on this track call for a much quieter touch than he can pull off without sounding contrived.

Biondi does, however, channel Barry White adeptly in at least a couple of tracks. “I can read your mind” has a Barry White vibe and Biondi has the voice to pull it off. “La voglia la pazzia l’idea,” sung in his native Italian, has a bossa groove and wonderfully lush strings arranged by long-time Incognito collaborator, Simon Hale. In fact, to disco heads like me, Hale’s arrangements steal the show in more than a few tracks on this album.

“Never stop” featuring Omar is a great tune and sounds like it could be a new hit from Bill Withers. Al Jarreau’s appearance on “Light to the world” is not quintessential Jarreau but it works. There’s very little scatting and the lyrical phrasing is much more relaxed than his vocal gymnastics masterpiece, “Take 5.” Still, it reminds us that Jarreau has a nice natural singing voice.

Although not a cohesive end-to-end listen, Sun has 13 full-length tracks offering lots to choose from for fans of jazz, soul, and the spaces in between.

Album Review: Handful of Soul, Mario Biondi & The High Five Quintet, 2006

There are very few vocalists who captivate you simply with the texture of their voice. Sinatra, Holiday, Vaughan, and now Biondi. You could listen to this guy order pizza and be mesmerized. It’s fortunate that he found jazz because this record is a perfect showcase for his style. “This is What You Are” is as cool as a slimline grey suit, folded white handkerchief in the jacket pocket.

Although he is an Italian national and not a native English speaker, Biondi sounds authentically American, a brother to the greats of 50s and 60s jazz.

He makes a guest appearance on Incognito’s latest album, Transatlantic R.P.M, where he duets with Chaka Khan on a cover of Boz Scagg’s “Lowdown.” Biondi and Khan make a nice pairing on that track. Of course, with his voice, he’d make a nice pairing with a household appliance.