As Italian singer-songwriter Paolo Conte’s debut American CD, Best Of Paolo Conte, made evident, Conte’s unique gift is writing and singing songs that combine such influences as the French cabaret and Tin Pan Alley, and adding his own distinctive twist that results in imaginative and impelling music. Conte’s slightly raspy voice perfectly transcribes the sometimes melancholy, often jovial and always poetically curious words and music of his songs. Like a blend of Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits, Jacques Brel and Edith Piaf, Conte is a unique stylist, and as his latest release, Razmataz, demonstrates, his uniqueness comes from his skill of blending and expanding musical traditions and structures. Razmataz distinguishes itself from Best Of, in one way, by there being songs sung in English as well as French. It is also an assemblage of musical styles and performers.
Trying to describe what the concept of Razmataz is, is like trying to describe a surrealistic dream that takes place in a cabaret in Paris during the 1920s or 1930s. What you encounter in this dream, in this show, is a variety of musical traditions (such as the piano ballad, French museete, guitar instrumental, opera, show tune, etc.) that are about such “characters” as “The Black Queen,” “The Talent Scout,” “The Yellow Dog” and “The Pasta Diva.” But like a dream, there is much more to Razmataz than words can try to describe.
The packaging of the album makes available the lyrics of songs in English, French and Italian, in addition to paintings by Conte that seem to be the basis for some of his songs. Razmataz proves that Conte is an artist interested in fooling around with words and melody, tones and colors, expectations and appearances. As odd and surreal as Razmataz seems, it is a beautiful, lustful, exotic dream worthy of being revisited.
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