Matt Bianco – Hideaway (2013)

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Sophisticated UK pop group Matt Bianco may be best known in the US for launching the career of onetime member Basia. But their blend of Latin rhythms, acid jazz, and other world music influences render them an unfairly overlooked band. Their latest release, Hideaway, should find them a home on American contemporary jazz radio and expose them to wider audiences.

Matt Bianco began life in 1982 with the late Kito Poncioni (bass), Mark Reilly (vocals) and Danny White (keyboards); for their first album, 1984’s Whose Side Are You On, they hired Polish vocalist Basia Trzetrzelewska. Their smooth yet catchy arrangements earned them acclaim in the UK, scoring hits with “Get Out of Your Lazy Bed” and “Half A Minute.” (Basia covered the latter track in her later live shows.) Basia and White soon departed the band to embark on her solo work, and Poncioni elected to leave the act as well. So, Reilly recruited keyboardist Mark Fisher to carry on as a duo.

They tried to break into the American market by recruiting Emilio Estefan — Gloria Estefan’s husband and producer — to helm their 1988 effort Indigo. While Matt Bianco continued to do well in Europe, US success eluded them. By 1994, they decided to freelance, recording music in their home studios and offering them to independent distributors.

Fisher retired from Matt Bianco in the early 2000s, but Reilly did not remain a solo act for long. White and Basia returned to record a reunion album, 2004’s underrated Matt’s Mood; after a subsequent world tour, they left Matt Bianco once again. However, Fisher rejoined Reilly for their 2009 release HiFi Bossanova, and they have continued recording and performing as Matt Bianco.

Hideaway continues their jazz pop tradition, although it incorporates some Indian instruments, rock guitar, and uptempo rhythms worthy of club play. “You Are My Love” starts with Indian percussion and sitar before adding Spanish-sounding rhythm guitar and a danceable tempo. It effectively introduces the listener to Matt Bianco’s cosmopolitan and international influences. Those who loved the samba rhythms of “Half A Minute” will enjoy the sultry “Too Late for Love,” with Reilly’s smooth-as-silk voice gracing the gentle number.

As with past Matt Bianco albums, the production is understated, perfectly framing these light-as-air tunes that exemplify the UK’s jazz-pop movement of the 1980s. (Think Sade’s tasteful arrangements.)

Other standouts include the Latin-tinged “Medusa,” a highly danceable tune that would suit any dance club. The flute solo injects straight-ahead jazz into the track, lending the song a sophisticated yet festive air. “The Other Side of Love” should appeal to contemporary jazz audiences with its lingering piano notes and Reilly’s laid back lead vocal, yet a consistent rock guitar riff keeps the song from becoming too sleepy.

“It’s Just the Way It Goes,” a lovely ballad, features a mournful trumpet solo as well as Reilly’s soft voice; it too succeeds in transcending the typical smooth jazz sound. Matt Bianco is famous for their intricate harmonies, and they permeate this and virtually every other song on Hideaway.

While no replacement for Basia, guest vocalist Elisabeth Troy works well on the Latin tune “You Will Never Know.” Her jazz sensibilities and ability to provide appropriate fills impress; she never oversings, realizing that her voice must emphasize and complement the brisk tempo. A tasty keyboard solo by Fisher rounds out this outstanding, retro-sounding tune. Not every song on Hideaway features vocals — “Cosmic Samba,” for example, contains certain repeated phrases, but mostly stands on its relentlessly catchy beat and Fisher’s jazzy keyboards. Try to sit still while listening to this track.

When listening to songs such as the largely instrumental “The Universe,” one feels transported to the 1960s, when artists such as Sergio Mendes, Herb Alpert, Antonio Carlos Jobim, and Astrud Gilberto first introduced worldwide audiences to Brazilian rhythms. UK jazz-pop picked up the torch during the 1980s, with acts such as Sade, Swing Out Sister, and Matt Bianco adding pop and danceable tempos to the mix. Hideaway is a worthy addition to this jazz-pop tradition, and perhaps American listeners will finally catch on to Matt Bianco’s elegant sounds.

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Kit O'Toole

Kit O'Toole

Kit O'Toole is a lifelong music enthusiast who maintains a stand-alone music blog called Listen to the Band. In addition, she is the internet columnist and a contributing editor for Beatlefan magazine. She also holds an Ed.D. in Instructional Technology. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Kit O'Toole
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