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Mario Biondi: Sun

Reviewed by Ismo Tenkanen

Rating: 8/ 10

Soul Express CD of the Month - Summer 2013

Sony Music EU/Italy, 2013
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1) Intro: Ladies and Gentlemen Introducing Mario Biondi
2) Shine On
3) Come to Me
4) What Have You Done To Me
5) Woman Woman
6) Never stop f. Omar
7) Deep Space
8) Catch the Sunshine f. Leon Ware
9) Voglia La Pazzia L'Idea, La
10) Light To The World f. Al Jarreau
11) Girl Blue
12) I Can't Read Your Mind
13) There's No One Like You
14) Lowdown f. Incognito & Chaka Khan
15) Outro

If you ask me, Mario Biondi is the most important artist in soul music today. I'm well aware that some jazz oriented readers feel that he has been "selling out himself to commercial audience" by turning from straight jazz to soul music, but as a listener who likes both soul and jazz, I feel this album represents a perfect mixture of jazz, soul and Bossa nova. And anyone who has hinted that Mario is currently recording "commercial R&B" - nothing could be farther from the truth. Whereas typical (American) R&B today means autotuned vocalists singing nursery rhymes over programmed musical backdrops - this is really something else: there are no programmed drums but only real drums, plus real brass section, strings etc. Surely there are synthesizers used on some more modern tracks, but they are more in the Incognito type of groove - as the album is mainly produced by Incognito leader Jean Paul Maunick together with Mario himself.

The other contributing artists - Leon Ware, Al Jarreu, Chaka Khan, Omar and James Taylor from J.T. Quartet - also speak volumes about the overall quality of the music and the genre Mario Biondi is now representing. So admittedly this is far from the jazz Mario originally recorded with his High Five Quintet (his brilliant debut set Handful of Soul), but when Mario has always been compared to names like Barry White, Lou Rawls and Jon Lucien as a vocalist (rather then any jazz vocalists), I guess he is now performing the music he is perfectly comfortable with.

My personal favourite on this album is a track titled I Can't Read Your Mind, which reminds me of some late 70s Earth Wind & Fire gems with its arrangement, and the melody - written by Maunick & Biondi - feels like an instant classic. The UK single pick Shine On is co-written by Jan Kincaid (Brand New Heavies), and it represents the jazzy UK soul groove at its best (wonderful upright bass by Neville Malcolm) - check the YouTube video below!

Other hightlights include the glorious Leon Ware contribution Catch the Sunshine - which really sounds like vintage Ware - and the brilliant mellow Come to Me, which is built over a jazzy 3/4 rhythm and crowned by a piano solo by Claudio Filippini. The excellent cover version of Lowdown (the Boz Scaggs song) featuring Chaka Khan was already familiar from Incongito's own 2010 album Transatiantic RPM.

  It seems that each reviewer has picked his own favourite track from the album, so there are lots of quality tracks on offer, showcasing different aspects of this great soul-jazz vocalist. As a whole, a strong contender for the album of the year in 2013.

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