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Soul Express Album of the Month - July 2007

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Handful of Soul

Italian Schema, 2007
1) A Child Runs Free 2) No Mercy For Me 3) This Is What You Are 4) Rio De Janeiro Blue 5) Slow Hot Wind 6) A Handful Of Soul 7) Never Die 8) On A Clear Day (You Can See Forever) 9) Gig 10) I Can't Keep From Cryin' Sometimes 11) No Trouble On The Mountain 12) I'm Her Daddy

Mario Biondi is the epitome of cool. My first introduction to this massive talent was the modern jazz classic “This Is What You Are” which was released under the moniker of Was A Bee back in the Spring of 2006. There is probably not a day that goes by without my giving this song an airing. This track appears on her but simply does not have the same punch as the original. Head to iTunes for that particular gem! All the ingredients that made that single great are present on this album, so no worries there. The music is straight up jazz dance in the best Schema fashion. Mario, a huge success in his native Italy, has great vocal range. His jazz chops are solid enough but his ability to belt out a riotously soulful delivery is also firm as is his ability to – believe it or not – croon. Mario is, I guess, a great all-rounder.

The pulsating rhythms and Afro Cuban inflections of “A Child Runs Free” is straight out of the classic jazz era, but is yet straight up 2007 all at once. As I have said before, Europe seems to have lost patience with the flaccid smooth jazz muzak sounds from America, and have taken the genre back to a more traditional Bop and Latin sounds. Fans of Shanachie's output need not bother with this as this will get the heart pumping a bit too much, let alone demand the feet tap! This first track is an absolute killer – worth the price of the CD alone, but thankfully we have another 11 songs to keep us enthralled. The lyrical content of this CD is excellent. Jazz should make your body move, but it should also exercise the ears and the grey matter. I find the most classic tunes intellectually attractive. Take “No Mercy For Me” which tells a great story of a love affair gone wrong. Nicely written and professionally performed. An exquisite piece of jazz in my humble opinion.

I have already mentioned the classic “This Is What You Are”. This version is excellent, but I much prefer the harder jazz dance version of the original. Mario is more husky than crooning on this version. “Rio De Janeiro Blue” allows The superb High Five Quintet to get into a galloping Latin rhythm. Mario's raspy vocals are deep, sonorous and rich – almost tangible. “Never Die” takes this further, adding a smoother edge. Here we see the crooner in action, and very good it is too.

My personal favourite is the essential “I Can't Keep From Cryin' Sometimes”, a track that has made it into this website's quality time cream cuts chart and rightly so. The backing is as jazzy as you like with Daniele Scannapieco and Fabrizio Bosso adding their respective sax and trumpet solos to devastating effect. As for Mario – this is his best vocal performance ever. His deep, powerful and gritty voice is easily a match for the likes of Bert Robinson and Gene Rice. This man is a super talented singer and the soul and emotion he pours into this song of maternal loss is as potent and touching as anything you are likely to hear today.

I cannot recommend this album enough. Mario's awesome talent, the Quintet's unparalleled musical skills and the success that is Schema are perfectly symbiotic. Move over, USA. Italian Jazz is here. Hopefully it's here to stay.

-Barry Towler

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