(4 / 5)
Matt Bianco’s “Gravity” is their 13th studio album, and I very much doubt that # 13 will be unlucky in this case. It’s a very decent listen indeed.
The opener “Joyride” starts as it means to go on; slick, cool, sophisticated jazz with a soulful flavour; an infectious hook on this commercial cut. Mark Reilly’s smooth-as-silk voice hasn’t changed or suffered at all in the circa 30 years since their biggest hits made an impact and shot them to fame.
Mark founded the band in 1983 with two fellow members of the group Blue Rondo à la Turk. The group were named after an imaginary Sixties super-spy in the 1980’s, and hit the charts around the world with hits such as ‘Half A Minute’, ‘Get Out Of Your Lazy Bed’, ‘Whose Side Are You On?’ and ‘Yeh Yeh’ in the 1980s.
Co-leader and keyboard man Mark Fisher died in December 2016, and this is their first album since he passed on. Singer and songwriter Mark Reilly vowed to carry on with the band, and has recruited an “A Team” for the record, featuring Swedish sax and flute star Magnus Lindgren and a large chunk of Jamie Cullum’s group. British stars include saxophonist Dave O’Higgins, bassist Geoff Gascoyne, pianist Graham Harvey, trumpeter Martin Shaw and singer Elisabeth Troy. Sebastiaan de Krom on drums.
They successfully revive Matt Bianco’s trademark Bossa and Jazz sound, built around the distinctive voice of Reilly, on a very pleasing collection of ten original songs (11 tracks) that will keep existing fans more than happy, and should bring in new admirers when radio picks up on the various airwaves-ready tracks here.
The songs were written by Mark, with Magnus Lindgren and Dave O’Higgins. Recorded live in the studio in Stockholm, London and in Reilly’s own studio in Buckinghamshire. Their sound is now more mature, more jazz and less pop, but retains that infectious, feel-good, Matt Bianco USP.
Second cut in, after the superb “Joyride”; the groove stays nailed on “Invisible”, with a tasty tenor sax solo from co-writer and Jamie Cullum sideman Dave O’Higgins, and a some fine trumpet work from Martin Shaw. The piano and bass chords on the intro to the title track reminded me of Ray Charles’ classic “Hit The Road Jack,” a single I wore out as a music obsessed kid. This swings like a mutha, fabulous skill on the drums from another Cullum cohort, Sebastiaan de Krom, and lovely piano work from Graham Harvey. Elisabeth Troy adds value with her backing vocals, having worked with the likes of MJ Cole, Metrik, and Clean Bandit.
A chilled mid-tempo duet from Mark and Ms Troy on “Heart In Chain”, a song which traces the saga of a love affair where she’s binned her geezer off, and says she needs to “find herself again……….” Nice blend of voices. “Summer In The City” harks back to Matt Bianco’s comfort zone core sound, and the two voices of Mark and Elisabeth add classy sparkle. “Before It’s Too Late” is another cut that has all the hallmarks of a classic Matt Bianco track, an up-tempo jazz-soaked offering.
“AM/PM” is ripe for a movie soundtrack, and features a gorgeous flute solo from Magnus Lindgren, which fits the 60s retro vibe of the track perfectly. Mark’s vocal phrasing is spot on. “Paradise” takes us to Latin America and is a lovely job; sizzling trumpet solo from Martin Shaw. They reprise the opening track, “Joyride” as the final cut here; with a fine Mark De Clive Lowe remix; which gives the track more space and ambience on top of a nu-soul/R&B groove. It should appeal to a younger audience.
Mr Reilly sounds chilled, relaxed and very comfortable in his own skin across this album, with a fresh, new wind in his sails. With the right songs, I can see this outfit hitting the charts again, and becoming firm BBC Radio 2 favourites.
I enjoyed Mark’s previous release, which I covered with a review; last year’s “The Things You Love”. A collaboration with Holland’s New Cool Collective. But hearing his voice reminded me of how much I liked Matt Bianco’s hits, and gave me a renewed appetite for new MB material. My wish is granted with “Gravity”, and that’s some good news for a change.
By Simon Redley
(2 / 5) ‘OK Zone’
(3 / 5) ‘Decent Zone’
(4 / 5) ‘Super Zone’
(5 / 5) ‘Awesome Zone’