Maria Monti

Il Bestiario

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Maria Monti's career in film and music covers multiple areas but hers is the kind of career that has resulted in only sporadic attention in the Anglophonic world, most famously (on a relative scale) for appearing in A Fistful of Dynamite. It makes her 1974 album, Il Bestiario, all the more remarkable, the type of mysterious, moody, and thoroughly compelling album that in its easy ignoring of genre templates seems more like something self-conscious from the 21st century than the apparently self-contained, vibrant collection it is, not least due to the quality of some of her collaborators, including Alvin Curran, who both performs and handles all the arrangements, and Steve Lacy. As the title and cover art hint, there's a running theme of animals throughout, as the song titles for the most part demonstrate, though the final one, "Aria, Terra, Acqua e Fuoco," takes a more elemental turn. Beginning with the blend of precise, beautiful acoustic guitar, swirl synthesizer courtesy of Curran, and Monti's own cool, gently controlled singing on "Il Pavone" -- a performance that alone seems like something Stereolab were taking plenty of notes from -- Il Bestiario moves from strength to strength with calm grace. If "Dove" shifts the style toward a turn in the spotlight on a jazz-pop note, Lacy's soprano saxophone provides a soaring but never overbearing part to match Monti's own, and from there Il Bestiario takes a constantly restless path, one song never quite predicting where the next might begin and then continue. Throughout, Monti engages each song in an almost kaleidoscopic range of styles, from the explosive half-conversational "No No No No" to the whispered "La Pecora Crede di Essere un Cavallo," acoustic guitars sounding like nervous whines against a woozy, sickly sweet backdrop. The animal themes reach an understandable climax with "Lo Zoo," with instrumentalists and vocalists doing their own riff on Martin Denny's music-as-wildlife approach before turning into a slightly swinging, slightly skronking number. It's the kind of engaging quirk that makes Il Bestiario a remarkable and underappreciated listen.

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