Matt Bianco: Gravity

It’s only been 7 months since Mark Fisher’s death, and we already have new Matt Bianco album. I didn’t know what to think about that. For me, Matt Bianco meant Mark Fisher’s catchy keyboard harmonies and Mark Reilly’s characteristic voice (I know, there was a different Matt Bianco with Danny and Basia, but that never did it for me). My favourite MB tunes were all Fisher/Reilly collaborations, so with him gone it was difficult for me to imagine what a Fisherless MB album would sound like.

While Fisher was ill, Reilly already collaborated with the dutch alternative jazzers New Cool Collective. I quite liked what they came up with: the album had some cracking tunes and I liked the New Cool Collectives idiosyncratic melange of brass and rhythm. So for the next Matt Bianco album Reilly again switched musicians: out are long time collaborators and studio heroes such as Tony Remy, Andrew Ross, Nick Cohen, Simon Finch, in are Graham Harvey (him of Incognito), Magnus Lindgren (Scandinavian Sax wunderkind), Dave O’Higgins (ditto, just not Scandinavian and already on Gran Via’s ‘Victim of Love’) , Geoff Gascoyne (British jazz bass legend) and Martin Shaw (Trumpeter extraordinaire). Elizabeth Troy – who got the background vocals job after Hazel Sim left) was allowed to stay.

So, all new personnel, new sound? Definitely, yesyes.

Out are the sequencers, the drum computers and electronic percussion. No more layered synthesizer harmonies, appregiatos and funky rhythm guitars. This is Reilly accompanied by classic acoustic jazz band, doing a Kurt Elling impersonation. This is not meant as a slight, as it works really well. A longstanding joke between the three remaining Matt Bianco fans is that you usually get two or three cracking songs per album (that’s ten pound per song if you order the Japanes import), and Reilly and his collaborators don’t disappoint: ‘Heart in chains’ and ‘Before it’s too late’ are excellent, and up there with the best of 30 years of Matt Bianco.

The album has been on heavy rotation at Chez Fordiebianco’s for 6 weeks now (tolerated by the best girlfriend ever – some sort of compliment, I’m sure) and I am still enjoying it. If you think about it, becoming more jazzy was always on the cards as Fisher and Reilly became more mature. HiFi Bossanova was already halfway there, so it feels natural that Reilly and the Jamie Cullen Band (which is what his marry men apparently are) have just progressed to where they should be.

This is a beautiful album that is beautifully produced and as such deserves a first class hifi system.

Nice one, Mark.

Matt Bianco @ Jazz Cafe Camden, 17.9.2010

Pic by Isobel Kellermann

Pic by Isobel Kellermann

The second Matt Bianco concert within a year in London! It’s quite obvious that the band is slowly but surely happy to play in the UK again, and the capacity crowd at the Jazz Cafe was utterly delighted to have their heroes back. It’s quite rare to see Mark Fisher and Mark Reilly smile at the same time, but there they were, beaming like Cheshire Cats, infused by an appreciative audience which went completely mad from the first minute of the gig, singing in happy unison with Reilly, Sim and Foster and spurning on the soloists. The setlist was the by now well rehearsed mix of classics and the recent Hifi Bossanova but with an exciting new take on ‘Half a Minute’, inspired by the recent Joey Negro remix. It’s interesting which of the 11 studio albums don’t make it on the setlist anymore: there were no songs from ‘Rico’, ‘Echoes’, ‘Another Time Another Place’ and ‘Samba in your casa’ which shows a certain negligence of their ‘naughties’ period.  Fortunately they did not drop their best live song, the brillant ‘Lost in You’ which with an extended Salsa section in the middle and Mark Fisher’s long piano solo continues to be the highlight of each show. ‘Fordiebianco’s law’ states that the quality of each Matt Bianco gig can be ascertained by Mark Fisher’s keyboard solo during ‘Lost in You’. If he’s really into it and sparks fly he’s been infused by the audience’s vibe and is obviously enjoying himself, but if it’s a lacklustre affair the gig was obviously not as enjoyable for everybody.

So for Fisher’s performance on a scale of 10, Friday’s was a 24 and the same can be said for the rest of the gig. Which again shows that Fordiebianco’s law is valid. Even Danny White was seen enjoying himself!

Quod erat demostrandum.

It was an absolute joy to see this much loved band play in front of a happy hame crowd, and I can only hope that there will be many more London gigs in the future.

Hifi Bossanova: The review

Well I’d like to think I fly in a kind of retro style, 

well I’ve heard it all before but I’m feeling it again.




This is the first line of the first track on Matt Bianco’s new album
Hifi Bossanova
and pretty much sums the album up in one contorted sentence. After the short lived reunion of the original line up for ‘Matt’s Mood’ (which, in my humble opinion was nothing but a calculated move by Basia to give her non existing career a shot in the arm) the new album has reunited the duo of Mark Reilly and Mark Fisher. Those two shaped the sound of this band over the decades and should by all means be regarded as Matt Bianco proper.

Interestingly, this is the first collaboration of those two in 7 years since they released Echoes.  But this time things are different: they have secured a contract with big German independent label ‘Edel’ and will be releasing their new oevre in Europe and the UK (if I remember correctly this is the first UK release since 1991’s ‘Samba in Your Casa‘) while their trusty label in Japan – JVC-Victor – will release Hifi Bossanova in Asia. There will even be a tour.  So all the portents point to a commercial success. But, what is it actually like?

Well, it’s different. Not different as in ‘Aaargh, that’s terrible’, no, just different from their last records. They have shed what I call  their ‘e-Latino’ sound (all uptempo drum loops, housey hihats and claptraps)  and have returned ironically to the more acoustic feel of the first MB album back in 1984. You could call it “Stan Getz and Joao Gilberto meet Baden Powell in 1984 in a cafe where they’re playing Steely Dan in the background”. Makes sense? It’s not as catchy as their previous albums: Every MB record in the past had some songs that you were able to hum instantly (Fire, ‘Cha Cha Cuba‘ and ‘Lost in you’ come to mind), but this time things are a bit more grown up, more sophisticated. You could even call it Sophistipop. The percussion and drums are more organic, more midtempo and chugging along nicely in the background (it’s not all bossanova, though). The melodies are more complex and grow more slowly on you than in the previous albums. It certainly takes a little while to get used to the different harmonics and singing/whistling/humming along to it takes you a little bit longer than usual. Which is not necessarily a bad thing as you just want to listen to it more and more. Now don’t think that Fisher and Reilly are reinventing the wheel with this: there are still plenty of the usual MB ingredients: plenty of vocodered ‘boom chicka chicka’ sounds, there is some  ‘te tumba’-ing  (in the bossanova’d version of ‘Lost in you’) and ‘ah – be da’ ing going on and Mark Reilly’s lyrics are, well, still Mark Reilly’s lyrics. There is also plenty to hear from their female vocalist Hazel Sim who sounds so much more appropriate for this material than Basia (less pathos is often a good thing) and gels well with Mark Reilly’s timbre.  Highlights of the album are the title track, ‘Always on my mind’ (no, not another Elvis cover) and the divine ‘Someone else’s dream’ and yes, there is the odd stinker as well, but after listening to the thing for 5 days almost continuously I can happily say that I am delighted with it. This is the first Matt Bianco album in which Fisher and Reilly must have said ‘sod the teenage market’ and focussed on their core audience of men and women ‘of a certain age’ (middle class geezers and ladies in their late thirties and above).

Well, there’s certainly plenty of us around who will gladly shell out money for this gem of an album. Let it be all over the charts and I’m already looking forward to the tour.

Well done, chaps.