79512-2 & 79818-2
Check out these hilariously clever lyrics to Paolo Conte's "First Steps" on his Reveries album:
And so it will start, the monkey and the music practicing together the invisible dance. The medium's been in a trance since the afternoon - but don't worry, it's only the first steps
See how far I look, very far, too far... the savannah is close by, very close - too close.
I want peanuts, peanuts from your vegetarian hands, from now until tomorrow. But do you want me?
Against your gusty sky appears, disappears and the reappears my honest face smiling at you and giving you
a banana skin and singing for you, if you want, an African lament.
But, do you want me?
The hand is sensitive, the foot is also prehensile, do you want to give me a cold shiver? I would die in your arms... and you know it...
Now add one of those gravelly ultra-masculine voices. It makes females twitch with lust. It sings more in a poetic narrative than any fully-formed athletic do-re-mis. It's always impossibly virile, seductive and confidently secure of its effects without seemingly noticing. Then stir in heavy infusions of Italian charm and elegance. Fold under Paolo's Jazzy piano and a clearly sharp intellect attracting all kinds of creative inspirations to itself like a spiralling magnet. Presto - you've got the basic makings of this very unconventional Italian artist and his joie-de-vivre art.
Expansively intelligent, always cross-fertilizing, sophisticated yet never serious or self-conscious, listening to Conti tunes transports you into seedy Tango bars or bizarre traveling circuses. You spot references to films and books, delve head-first into musical montages of stylistic fragments seemingly on a fatal collision course ( say a Parisian musette waltz with American military movie fanfares), yet never at odds with each other, always surrounded by Picasso-esque boundless imagination.
Born in Asti/Northern Italy in 1937, Paolo Conte is a self-professed Jazz and visual arts aficionado who played the vibraphone in multiple small touring bands. By 1960, his songwriting efforts had captured the imagination of established singers like Bruno Lauzi, Adriano Celentano, Enzo Jannacci, Patty Pravo and Caterina Caselli. However, it wasn't until 1974 that this previous lawyer and smiling intelligensnik began recording himself. "Un Gelato Al Limon" and "Paris Milonga" became hits in 1979 and a 1984 recording, as before simply called Paolo Conte, proved highly successful and saw a sold-out tour through Italy in its wake that was also captured on the live double album Concerti.
1987's Aguaplano meant touring abroad, meant gold and platinum recognitions in Holland, meant two nights at NYC's Blue Note and appearances at Jazz meets in Montreux, Montreal, Cagliari, Juan les Pins and Nancy. 1990's Parole D'amore Scritte A Macchina experimented with modernism while 1992's Novecento returned Conti to his roots. More albums and tours followed and The Best of was released on Nonesuch in 1997 to mark Conti's debut in the US. It was promptly voted "Record of the Year" by Rolling Stone and The New Yorker.
Conte is presently said to be finishing a life's multi-media dream project, Razmataz, set in 1920's Paris as a meeting between "old European and young black music. 1800 illustrated drawings become a sequenced montage to accompany the music and dialogue. This series of songs, taking shape in a wide range of styles that reflect the innovation and fusion of this 1920s cultural crossroad in Paris, is envisioned to be performed as a musical."
Strong cabaret elements mix inseparably with minimalist Jazz cool, croaking trombones, wheezy saxes and soapy strings create milieu, a Kletzmer clarinet enters from stage left, Conti does charming doowop scatting and you feel transported into a musical Dali painting where wit, genius and a certain amount of inspired insanity coexist like old friends trading war stories both historical and implausible. This is the general subtext on which both albums shimmy, shuffle and swing. It's not like anything else in particular except it's unmistakably European. And appearing on Nonesuch guarantees superior sonics for a full-blown Conte love fest that will have you enter a bygone world where time passed more slowly, always more slowly, and people were well read and proudly delighted in being cultured.