The Return of Basia
By Brian Soergel & Jonathan Widran

Smooth jazz fans who turned on to the genre over the past 10 years may fail to understand the excitement surrounding the return, after a decade-long absence, of Basia. The Polish-born chanteuse's inimitably sultry vocals grace the cool jazz lounge vibes of Matt's Mood ––the first recording by the original lineup of the popular British ensemble Matt Bianco in 20 years. Together, Basia featuring Matt Bianco are launching a 25-city tour in the U.S. this month.

No doubt, the first few bars of the playful, samba-flavored first single “Ordinary Day” (already a hit in the U.K. and Japan) will quickly win jazz fans over to Basia's numerous charms. But just in case, their friends who have followed the format from its late '80s beginnings can relay the amazing story of one of its biggest early vocal sensations.

These days, most of the vocal tracks we hear resemble an adult contemporary oldies station, but back then, smooth jazz radio was a wide-open playground for the latest albums by popular singers like Al Jarreau, Michael Franks and Oleta Adams. The voice of Basia was a perfect fit. From 1987, when she released her first solo project Time and Tide, into the early '90s, Basia (whose last name is Trzetzelewska) was one of the genre's biggest crossover stars.

Her ongoing creative relationship with keyboardist and co-writer Danny White (brother of guitarist and genre superstar Peter) launched a series of #1 Adult Contemporary pop hits—“Promises,” “New Day for You” and “Cruising for Bruising.” Her platinum-selling debut topped the Billboard Contemporary Jazz chart for eight weeks, and the title track crossed over to the Top 25 of the Billboard pop chart. Basia's follow-up, London Warsaw New York, was certified platinum by 1992, and its success allowed her to fill such venues as the 6,000-seat Universal Amphitheatre in Universal City, California for three consecutive nights in the summer of 1990.

Basia also had the unique experience of hearing her solo hits competing for air time with “Get Out of Your Lazy Bed” and “Half a Minute,” the two lead vocals she did on the original Matt Bianco album, 1984's multi-million selling Whose Side Are You On ?

By the mid-90s, the format was changing, and the less enthusiastic response to her third album, The Sweetest Illusion , signaled the seemingly sudden end of her meteoric run. Epic scrambled to keep her in the public eye, releasing the live album Basia on Broadway and assembling the 1998 hits package Clear Horizon, which featured a few new tracks. She also popped up on a few high profile instrumental projects, including Peter White's Caravan of Dreams (“Just Another Day”) and Spyro Gyra's Got the Magic (“Springtime Laughter”). But for the most part, she simply retired from touring and recording. Over the years, her hungry fans kept asking White—who played on each of her albums and many of her tours—if he knew why she had all but disappeared. But finally, Basia is back to answer those questions for herself.

Part of the original reason was her waning popularity in the wake of radio format changes, which temporarily dampened her motivation. But more emotionally speaking, she found herself under a cloud of inconsolable grief a few years ago upon the death of her beloved mother, Kazia. In Basia's heyday, Kazia was a great sounding board, so much so that she relied on her opinion about what worked musically on each project and what didn't.

“I didn't work for a long time after she died,” Basia says from her home in London. “I lost the most incredible force behind my music. She was such a fan. I realized that a lot of music I did was for her. Danny and I tried to work on new projects, but I just couldn't put my heart into it.”

Fans fishing for fascinating stories might be slightly disappointed to learn that there was no single event or epiphany which precipitated the reunion of Basia, White and Matt Bianco's third original member, songwriter and vocalist Mark Reilly. All three artists believe it was simply the right time to join creative forces again. White stopped by Reilly's studio one day just to say hello, and before long, they were writing together like it was old times.

Excited immediately by the early material Reilly and White ran by her, Basia soon realized how much she had missed writing and recording after a several year hiatus. “Their early tracks which evolved into ‘Ordinary Day' and ‘Ronnie's Samba' really woke me up and inspired some great new creativity,” she says. “I had only co-written with Danny before, and it was interesting doing it three ways, contributing melodies and words wherever they were needed. It was a really therapeutic process for me. I have so much more life experience to draw from now.

“The moment I sang the third chorus of ‘Wrong Side of the Street,' in my native Polish, I was hooked heart and soul,” Basia adds. “I knew we were on to something wonderful. Matt Bianco's style is more refined now, and it's great to be a part of it. There have always been elements of jazz, Latin and R&B, which I love.”

Finding a sense of balance in the midst of the new whirlwind of activity is a challenge, but Basia's anchor through it all is her healthy, committed relationship with trumpeter Kevin Robinson, whom she has been with for 14 years. It's a professional situation as well––Robinson played on all of Basia's solo albums and also plays on five songs on Matt's Mood .

“Music is very important to us, and we have so much in common musically,” she says. “He lives and breathes music and is involved in a lot of workshops where he shares his skills. Kevin is an amazing jazz musician.” At age 45, Basia is quick to laugh, and she seems genuinely happy with her life, new music and the upcoming U.S. tour.

All of the different music genres incorporated in Matt's Mood give the album a multifaceted, unique touch that will appeal to a wide variety of music lovers. After touring Europe and Japan, Americans will get a first-hand taste of this musical smorgasbord. This world-wide trek––slated to begin last month, but was postponed after the band's visas were turned in too late–– will actually be the first time that the original line-up has ever toured together as a band.

“We're really looking forward to bringing our music to our fans,” she says. “It will be so exciting to experience our songs injected with the energy of a live performance. The chemistry works between us. I love working with Mark, and enjoy the interplay of our voices. Making music is the only thing that gets me going like this, and everything about this project was so natural. It's great to be back.”

Basia featuring Matt Bianco are scheduled to perform on a 25-city tour throughout the U.S., which begins April 5 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, ends May 10 in Seattle, Washington, and includes a stop on May 6 at San Diego County's Viejas Casino, located at 5000 Willows Road, Alpine, California.

For a complete tour schedule, log on to www.emarcy.com/bianco. For more information on Basia, visit her unofficial website at http://basia.techwood.org.

Discography:
1987
Time & Tide
Epic
1990 London Warsaw NY Epic
1994 The Sweetest Illusion Epic
1995 Basia on Broadway Epic
1998 Clear Horizon Epic
2004 Matt's Mood Decca/ Unvrsl Inter'l
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