Album Reviews

Matt Bianco: Whose Side Are You On: Deluxe Edition (Cherry Pop)

matt-bianco

Matt Bianco
Whose Side Are You On: Deluxe Edition
Cherry Pop

“Sophisti-pop”—a heady amalgam of pop, jazz, and soul—is one of the more lasting genres to emerge from the Eighties. Though it might have been underrated at the time,its sound has held up quite well over the last three decades, with albums by Sade, Everything But The Girl, Joe Jackson, and The Blue Nile now being recognized as some of the best of the decade.  Though primarily a European phenomenon, British trio Matt Bianco helped define the genre thanks in part to their fine debut album, 1984’s Whose Side Are You On, which has been remastered and expanded into a fine, essential two disc set.

Matt Bianco was formed after the implosion of Blue Rondo A La Turk, a volatile but influential jazz band whose debut album Chewing The Fat is considered one of Sophisti-pop’s seminal releases. But the band imploded two years after formation, with vocalist Mark Riley, bassist Kito Poncioni, and keyboardist Danny White forming Matt Bianco almost immediately after Blue Rondo’s split. To assist them, they hired Polish singer Basia Trzetrzelewska as vocalist, whose singing added another dimension. Poncioni soon left, and the band continued on as a trio.

The band’s debut album, Whose Side Are You On, was an impressive collection of catchy jazz and pop. It was clear that the band had something special from the beginning; the album’s demos—featured here as bonus material—show a band who had quickly fomented its ideas and  arrived at their sound almost immediately. That sound—a catchy, upbeat blend of samba and pop, augmented by the potent singing of Reilly and Basia—was all about groove. The band’s debut single,”Get Out Of Your Lazy Bed,” is pure jaunty fun, and the interchanging boy/girl vocals make for a delightful dance floor experience, and the rest of Whose Side Are You On follows suit. Matt Bianco’s style was built around that groove, and it never falters. Basia is an impressive singer, too; “Half A Minute” and “Riding With The Wind” find her taking the lead, and they’re clearly the album’s highlights. Reilly is equally impressive. The collection of remixes and extended versions on offer are equally impressive; instead of sounding monotonous and redundant, the improvisational nature of this style of music resulted in variations that extend and improve upon an already perfect groove.

Sadly, this iteration wasn’t built to last, and as quickly as the trio had formed, it was over. Basia and White left in 1985 in order to launch Basia’s solo career. Though a disappointing development, it was the right move; Basia would soon become an internationally successful and critically acclaimed jazz vocalist in her own right, with White serving as her creative partner and collaborator. Reilly continued on with Matt Bianco, who would go on to release a steady flow of high quality jazz-pop albums and singles. In 2004, the original trio would reform in celebration of the band’s twentieth anniversary, releasing the fine album Matt’s Mood. Since then, the trio have occasionally reunited and performed together; the final track on this set is a newly recorded version of “Half A Minute.”

Whose Side Are You On has stood the test of time, because fine music never ages. Though the trio might have been short-lived, great things arose from its ashes. This reissue is nothing if not two and a half hours of enjoyable and ageless jazz-pop, and makes a case for trio quietly being one of the most influential bands of the Sophisti-pop scene.

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