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Mario Biondi: Best of Soul

Reviewed by Ismo Tenkanen

Rating: 8/ 10


Soul Express CD of the Season - Spring 2017

Italian Columbia/Sony Music 2-CD, 2016
Buy this album from our CD Shop


Disc 1:
1) Do You Feel Like I Feel
2) Chilly Girl
3) You Are My Queen
4) The Mystery of Man
5) I Will Never Stop Loving You
6) Stay With Me
7) This Is What You Are
8) A Handful of Soul
9) No Mercy for Me
10) Rio The Janeiro Blue
11) Never Die

Disc: 2
1) Gratitude
2) Be Lonely
3) Shine On
4) What Have You Done to Me
5) Deep Space
6) Come to Me
7) Open up Your Eyes
8) Love is a Temple
9) Another Kind of Love
10) All I Want Is You
11) Nightshift (Long Version)



The last time I reviewed Mario Biondi on Soul Express, in summer 2013, I stated that Mario Biondi is the most important artist in soul music today. He had just released his Incognito / Jean-Paul Maunick produced set Sun, which I still rate as one of the best albums in this century, and it featured the late Leon Ware and Al Jarreau, plus Chaka Khan and Omar as guest vocalists. Writing this review, I have just returned from Rome, where Mario Biondi performed a stunning two and a half hour concert at Auditorium Parco Della Musica, and of course included a tribute to Leon Ware in his live set.

Admittedly, Mario's previous album Beyond was a step in the wrong direction, when he allowed famous pop producers to lead him to record music for teenagers. In his concert last week, Mario performed only two tracks from that album, the hit single Love Is a Temple and the excellent ballad All I Want Is You, co-written by Dee Dee Bridgewater. Luckily, this new double CD takes him back to soul and jazz territory, with seven new tracks, all of which are either good or excellent.

Now is an apt time to collect a Mario Biondi discography on our site, from where you can easily count that this double disc collection contains five tracks from his acclaimed, jazz-oriented debut album Handful of Soul, and he still played over an half on hour of music on his live concert of these tunes. This Is What You Are is his signature song in Italy, and he often performs it as the encore song, but now he opened the set with this anthemic song, which Barry Towler described as "modern jazz classic" already ten years ago.

I regard Mario's If album from 2010 a vastly underrated set, as it contained such gems as the beautiful Burt Bacharach-written new classic Something That Was Beautiful, as well as the robust cover of Gil Scott-Heron's Winter in New America, plus the excellent Incognito-ish club jazz-soul tune Love Dreamer (crowned by a trumpet solo) and Mario's wonderful tribute to "Coltrane and Miles", entitled Blackshop. However, in his concerts, Mario has often performed the Barry White-influenced luscious ballad Ecstasy from that album, although on this collection, the only pick from If is, rather surpringly, the house-oriented jogger Be Lonely, which was orchestrated in a string-laden musical setting.

Four tracks from both Sun and Beyond albums are probably already too familiar to all of Mario's longtime fans, but the Commodores cover Nightshift is taken from the Special edition of Beyond CD, which contained 5 Commodores covers, all of which sounded a bit too hurried and pop-oriented to my liking.

What is more important is that the new tracks take Mario back to the real thing, deep and jazz-flavoured soul music. Even the trendiest cuts, like the single hit Do You Feel Like I Feel and the equally easy-on-the-ear midpacer Chilly Girl are fresh and stylish, the former written by Nicola Conte and both tracks including some excellent, vivid drum work by Finnish jazz hero Teppo Mäkynen of The Five Corners Quintet fame.

The real main course, however, come in the form of gorgeous soul ballads with jazzy horn solos. Gratitude was already chosen as the closing song of Mario's concert in Rome. It really is one of the best new songs written in recent years, sounding like an instant classic and topped by a meaty saxophone solo that induced Mario to duet with the sax player in his live performance as well. The track of the year!

Another real winner is the glorious cover of a rare Sarah Vaughan recording Mystery of Man. Originally the song is anything but a standout recording in Sarah's career, in the Allmusic.com review it is described as follows: "this is a difficult set to sit through, not only from the jazz standpoint (the impressive all-stars who are in the orchestra are largely wasted) but musically; everything is too serious and a bit pompous. Skip." However, Mario's version is not pompous at all, but a down-to-earth, peaceful but profound interpretation with an absolutely stunning trombone solo.

Although the album is mainly a compilation set, I can warmly recommend buying it at the price of a new CD - even if you already had all Mario's previous albums - as the seven new tracks are simply essential.




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