MARIA MONTI – Il Bestiario

Unseen Worlds

Never as in this case a label’s denomination expresses a truth. This album – originally released in 1974 – encompasses elements of Italy that aren’t visible anymore today, if not by thorough searching inside the small print of its socio-political history. The very concept of “culture” has been completely assassinated on these shores over the last 30 years, and only the ones who were receptive in that era – and whose memory has not degraded due to laundered money, media-devised brainwashing and drugs in a quest for careerism, artistic or less – are going to recall (perhaps sighing in melancholic resignation) characters, atmospheres and scents of a national environment showing conspicuous signs of life and growth, as opposed to the counterfeit scenarios fed to politically unconnected Italians now. In the 70s, luminaries such as Steve Lacy and Alvin Curran were involved in projects like this, featuring a talented actress and vocalist – Maria Monti, whose name is, rather sinisterly, the female version of our current Charon – singing verses penned by poet Aldo Braibanti (*), a man defined “the lone true Italian genius” by another bona fide mastermind, actor Carmelo Bene (**). Completing the record’s roster, three equally brilliant musicians: Roberto Laneri, Luca Balbo and Tony Ackerman.

The 10-song cycle touches the heart of this reviewer profoundly. The music is exquisite: gracefully communicative, “experimental” when needed yet without exaggerations of any sort. Monti delivers Braibanti’s words (luckily translated into English, although references are mostly made to typically Italian behavioural patterns) in a concoction of sarcasm and poignancy, pronouncing the lyrics perfectly, remaining entirely understandable amidst cultivated interplay and freeform soundscapes. Several pieces belong to the “veritable milestone” zone, with honourable mention to the final two episodes “Il Letargo” and “Aria, Terra, Acqua E Fuoco”. The contrapuntal designs are exposed with the same combination of wonderland innocence and earnest investigation of our simplest and deepest feelings, the ones which should draw our right paths before falling prey to the mermaids of intellectual misrepresentation.

Ultimately, this was a genuine labour of love by all the participants, and Taylor Deupree’s remastering from the original sources warrants sweet acoustic yields. Il Bestiario will probably affect healthily aged countrymen of mine more than other specimens – too many are the warm memories for us nostalgic grumblers – but I strongly urge everybody to plunge into the transparent beauty of this CD, its quality of sonic invention and uncontaminated poetry having absolutely nothing to do with establishment-approved Franco Battiato, improbably credited with a theoretical similarity in a press release. Incidentally: for the handful of persons who still accept as credible the often-quoted myth of Frank Zappa calling him “genius” decades ago, I have been personally told by Gail Zappa – after a specific request – that Battiato was sublimely unknown to her husband. Quite obviously, I might add.

(* and **): Material in English language about Bene and, especially, Braibanti is not overly abundant on the web, therefore do your best to translate the following Wikipedia pages. These two artists deserve the effort. Once upon a time, someone was trying to do something seriously. Even here.

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