Saturday, October 7, 2017

The Voice of Robert Desnos on CD

I'm not sure if audiophiles dig spoken word pieces or not. I can't think of a famous reference disc that consists of someone reciting poetry or prose with musical accompaniment. The closest thing I have to that in my music collection is an LP, part of the Jack Kerouac box set that came out a couple of decades ago, that includes Jack reading from the last few paragraphs of On the Road while Steve Allen improvises on the piano.

I fondly remember going to the Anti-Club in Hollywood back in the late '80s and seeing Henry Rollins and Exene Cervenka reading their poetry with spare musical accompaniment. I vividly remember those recitals. So I'm not sure why spoken word pieces aren't more popular. The voice alone, clear and naked, could be used as a true reference point for audiophile since most of them don't have access to a singer who can perform in their living rooms at a moment's notice. Throw in something substantial, such as a grand piano, and you might be able to start a new trend for the old dogs among us.

So I submit The Voice of Robert Desnos, with Antonella Chionna reciting Desnos' dreamy, surreal poetry backed by Pat Battstone's light and versatile piano. The sound quality is spectacular, precise and direct. But it's spoken word, the whole way through. Will that be interesting to us?

I say yes, and wholeheartedly. First of all, Chionna's voice is utterly charming with its moderate Italian accident--she sounds a lot like Valeria Golina's character in Rain Man. Even when she's digging into terse and repetitive poetry--Desnos had a habit of repeating words and phrases over and over for emphasis--her voice casts a spell. Desnos' poetry deserves equal attention since it's dreamy and surreal and delves deep into the human subconsciousness. Finally, Battstone's flowing keys provide the momentum as well as the actual direction. This is Battstone's project, after all, and he's the one who found the Desnos poems and sent them on to Chionna to see if she'd be interested. She was, as you see.

As much as I enjoy this CD and admire such a cerebral effort, my audiophile side still resists a little. To illustrate, I've listened to this recording a few times and two different people burst into the room and asked me what the hell was I was listening to. So enjoying this CD will depend upon a simple realignment of the way you listen to music, something to push you past the novelty. It's certainly something to think about.

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