Paolo Conte ‘Psiche’ (Platinum/Universal) 4/5

 Paolo Conte PsicheItalian singer-songwriter and pianist Paolo Conte almost belongs to another era and it is precisely that old-world charm that makes his music utterly compelling and unique. Conte successfully brings together New Orleans-style jazz, world beats instrumentation and tango with a gruffness of voice that Tom Waits could immediately identify with. He sings primarily in his native Italian, but has increasingly incorporated other languages into his repertoire, especially French (he is virtually as popular in France as in his own country) and English invariably finds it way into the choruses (as on the glorious all-time favourite ‘Happy Feet’). This album is an ideal place to start to explore Conte’s extensive back catalogue and dates from 2008. The overall feel on this recording is of quiet introspection and a hint of melancholia, though the Italian joie de vivre is never too far from the surface. On the gentle opener and title track, a jazzy bass line leads into some Satie-esque piano rolls with minimalist lyrics. There is a quasi-spoken delivery on ‘Silvery Fox’ with swinging brass and just the kind of eclecticism of approach that one has come to expect from Conte. Variety is on offer on the percussive uptempo number ‘Velocità silenziosa’ which features the loveliest of melodies and a classic chorus line. Subtle electronica beats permeate the ballad ‘Omicron’ while dissonant guitar riffs are a feature of ‘Il quaderto e il cerchio’. It is surprising to learn that the law trained musician was initially unsuccessful with his musical passion in 1962 and it was not until 1974 that he made a second attempt, this time gaining a national then international audience within just over a decade. His live performances are much lauded, yet have become relatively infrequent given that he is now in his mid-seventies. Paolo Conte will be performing for one date only in the UK at the Southbank Centre on Saturday 16 November as part of the London Jazz festival. Tim Stenhouse