Paolo Conte ‘Zazzarazàz – Uno Spettacolo D’arte Varia’ 4 CD Box Set (Blue Wrasse/Universal Italy) 4/5

Italian singer-songwriter and pianist extraordinaire, Paolo Conte is nothing less than an Italian cultural institution and that can probably be extended to neighbouring France, and indeed other continental European countries, where he is loved and revered. There have been several attempts to chronicle the music of Conte and this latest instalment does a reasonable job, if it is somewhat lacking in the fine details of discographical information, and the chronology is pretty much non-existent, though the lavish booklet makes up in part. If anything, the more recent songs are featured on the very first CD, while the classics that cemented his reputation during the mid-1980’s through the nineteen nineties cover the second and third CD’s. However, it is the music that counts and this is as good as ever. More recent songs of quality are showcased on the first CD and these include, ‘Snob’, a title that possibly takes a leaf out of the 1950’s Paris rive gauche Boris Vian songbook, who famously sang, ‘Je suis snob’. Other noughties compositions include, ‘Elisir’ and, ‘Gong’, while to open up the box set, Paolo Conte contributes a brand new song in, ‘Per te’ (‘For you’). The singer really came to prominence in his native Italy during the 1980’s, after a major career change in 1974 when he left his day job as a lawyer to become a musician, and this is reflected in the plethora of songs on the second and third CD’s that have become de facto anthems for him in live performance. These include, ‘Via con me’, that became famous partly as the soundtrack to a perfume advert, ‘Come di’ and, especially, the utterly joyous, ‘Dancing feet’, that is guaranteed to get any party underway, while the more reflective side to his repertoire is showcased on songs such as, ‘Alle prese con una verde milonga’, with reference to the Argentinian tango, or the older number, ‘Novocento’. The sheer love of life that Paolo Conte’s music exudes is demonstrated to perfection on, ‘Boogie’, ‘Tropical’, and, ‘Sparring partner’. A fourth CD is devote mainly to guest artist duets and of these, largely with Italian singers virtually unknown to non-Italian speakers, that with actor-director, Roberto Benigni, on, ‘Via con me’, stands out as does an unexpected pairing of Conte with legendary figures, Miriam Makeba and Dizzy Gillespie, on ‘Don’t break my heart’. Elsewhere, ‘Bartoli’, is reprised, this time in a duet with Enzo Jannacci. Personal liner notes by Paolo Conte are supplemented by stylish black and white as well as colour photographs of the man in various major cities of the world while on tour. It would have been advantageous for an international audience to have translated the personal liner notes into other languages, but this release is aimed squarely at an Italian public that already knows the songs off by heart and simply wishes to acquire a collection of them in one handy place.

Tim Stenhouse