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Maria Monti - Il Bestiario

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Artist: Maria Monti

Album: Il Bestiario

Label: Unseen Worlds

Review date: Aug. 1, 2012

Maria Monti is probably best known as a film actress, having a large filmography including notable appearances in Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dynamite (a.k.a. Duck, You Sucker!) and Bernardo Bertolucci’s 1900. In a parallel career, she has recorded a dozen albums and many singles as a vocalist, appeared as a politically-engaged cabaret singer and an avant-garde folk singer. Il Bestiario was recorded in Rome, probably in July 1974, and only released on the Italian Ri-Fi label. It subsequently became a rarity and this is its first release since then.

Alongside Monti’s undoubted celebrity, for many the most noteworthy aspects of this album will be the presence of Alvin Curran as arranger and synthesiser player, plus legendary soprano saxophonist the late, great Steve Lacy. In 1974, Curran was best known as the co-founder of the acoustic/electronic improvisational group MEV. In 1975, Lacy recorded his album Threads with Curran and fellow MEV member Frederic Rzewski; in 1977, Lacy recorded United Patchwork as part of MEV. Il Bestiario was the first time Curran and Lacy recorded together, so it must be considered a significant part of the jigsaw that is Lacy’s discography.

Fans of Curran or Lacy who come to this album hoping for the radical experimentation of MEV may be disappointed; the music consists of 10 original songs composed for the album. They have lyrics by the Italian Communist writer Aldo Braibanti, and include music by Curran and guitarist Luca Balboa. Fortunately for those of us not fluent in Italian, the lyrics of all the songs are in a PDF file on the Unseen Worlds website alongside their English translations, enabling their subtle meanings and the emotion of Monti’s interpretations to be fully appreciated. The lyrics live up to the album title (The Bestiary) with entire songs about animals (“Il Pavone” – the peacock; “Il Serpente innamorato” – the snake in love; “Lo Zoo” – the zoo...) and many allegorical animal allusions; they also include frequent Biblical references, but only the lyrics of “Dove” reflect Braibanti’s radical political views. Whatever the subject matter, Monti gives a vocal performance that is passionate and theatrical yet controlled, investing each song with a sense of drama.

Rather than showcasing the prowess of individual instrumentalists, Curran’s spare arrangements serve to frame and emphasize the vocals and to heighten the impact of the lyrics. To that end, the synthesizer, acoustic guitars and saxophones are deployed effectively as accompaniment, playing alongside the vocals rather than taking solo instrumental breaks. So, on “Dove,” “No No No” and “Lo Zoo,” Lacy practically duets with Monti, the two interweaving and complementing each other perfectly, ably supported by the other instruments. At times, the combination of Lacy and Monti is reminiscent of his saxophone with the vocals of his wife Irene Aebi in his own groups.

Il Bestiario is a welcome reissue; it seems highly likely that its “strictly limited” run of 500 CD copies will be snapped up quickly…and not just by Lacy and Curran completists.

By John Eyles

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