Since her early days with UK group Matt Bianco, Basia has forged her own path in music. Born in Poland, she integrates her homeland with Brazilian jazz and a touch of pop to create her own unique mixture. In 1986, she started her solo career with Time and Tide, co-produced by her longtime collaborator (and Matt Bianco alum) Danny White. Their partnership resulted in several hit albums, but Basia mysteriously disappeared from the music scene after her last studio album, 1994′s The Sweetest Illusion. Slowly she has resurfaced, first with her Matt Bianco reunion, 2004′s Matt’s Mood. Next came 2009′s solo effort It’s That Girl Again, proving that her voice had lost none of luster and that she still possessed a gift for interpreting Brazilian rhythms for a new generation. Subsequently she has returned to touring, and judging by her newest live album From Newport to London: Greatest Hits Live…And More, Basia exudes the same charisma and multicultural appeal that first enchanted fans in the 1980s.
Recorded on June 29, 2011 at the Wytwórnia cultural center in Poland, the album displays Basia in fine voice as she guides the audience through her past hits as well as newer songs. Beginning with “Third Time Lucky,” the chanteuse deftly navigates the complicated Latin rhythms exactly as she did in 1994. While her voice remains mostly unchanged, she slightly changes the key for “Drunk on Love,” but without detracting from the original recording. “Astrud,” Basia’s ode to her idol, Brazilian jazz legend Astrud Gilberto, serves as a loving tribute with its sultry rhythms and fond lyrics. “Where is she now the lovely girl/ With the softest voice you’ve ever heard/ Asking ‘Fly Me to the Moon,’” she croons, a gentle classical guitar solo accenting the song’s lovely chord changes. The band immediately segues into “New Day for You,” its Latin feel perfectly accompanying the former song. The live instruments, including horns, nicely accent Basia and White’s abilities to merge jazz and pop into a winning combination. The new addition of a lilting flute solo adds depth to the song.
White deserves great credit for rearranging old chestnuts like “Cruising for Bruising” to breathe new life into them. Extended piano and saxophone solos, slight changes in percussion, and different harmonies subtly deepen the tunes, encouraging the audience to listen to the well-known tracks with fresh ears. For example, the Time and Tide track “How Dare You” sounds even better here than on the album, as White emphasizes the tune’s jazz elements. Unlike the synthesizer-heavy studio version, the live horns, keyboards, and drums add punch, with Basia’s strident voice growling playfully.
Another interesting aspect of From Newport to London is the inclusion of It’s That Girl Again tracks “If Not Now Then When,” “Love Lies Bleeding,” “A Gift,” and “I Must.” The last song benefits most from the live treatment, with Basia’s jaunty voice gliding effortlessly over rapidly changing tempos. “How many times you hope that I would ignore it/ When you commit another crime and kick my love to death” she wails, its lyrics conjuring angrier images than in typical Basia songs. “Now I see that things will have to change, right now/ Oh, things will have to change around here.” The instrumentation alternates between a “cha cha” rhythm and a wild, horn-filled section straight out of a James Bond film. I am slightly disappointed that she omitted “Blame It on the Summer,” as it would have fit in nicely with “Third Time Lucky” in mood.
The London Warsaw New York track “Copernicus” appropriately concludes the show, as it summarizes how she has mixed her international musical influences to create her unique sound. A jubilant percussion solo begins the song, introducing Basia’s warm voice; she may “only know a very few simple words of your language,” but she understands that music contains a universal vocabulary. “If it’s London, Warsaw or New York / ‘Cause all around the world/ People want to love and be loved,” she croons, singing the final lyrics in her native Polish. Judging by the audience’s enthusiastic reaction, they indeed responded to her multilingual, multicultural music and voice.
From Newport to London also includes three new studio songs: “There’s A Tear,” “Wandering,” and the title track. While these are certainly pleasant additions, it’s the concert that really shines here. Basia fans will recall that From Newport to London is her second live album since 1995′s Basia on Broadway. Is it worth purchasing another live recording from the same artist? The answer: definitely. Sixteen years later, Basia has become an even stronger stage presence, her voice gaining layers and nuances. From Newport to London: Greatest Hits Live…And More showcases an artist still at her peak, joyfully performing new songs as well as reinterpreting classics from her extensive catalog.