John Gavanti is not a person. John Gavanti is not a band. John Gavanti no longer exists. John Gavanti was collective weirdness spewed forth from members of Mars, DNA, and Don King, that has been given the affectionate definition of “no-wave operetta.” John Gavanti is a deconstructed and degenerate homage to the opera “Don Giovanni,” reissued by the kind folks at Atavistic.
As near as I can tell, this is a one-off project by a group of incredibly gifted young musical improvisers (including the Lindsay brothers and Sumner Crane) to make a completely glorious and non-pretentious high art piece. So, yes, this “operetta” reads more like a concept album, with most of “Don Giovanni’s” motifs are intact. Only the plot is updated and modified, with references like John Gavanti wandering St. Marks Place in New York City, where he is smitten by a little girl on a skateboard (?) and seduces her with magic tricks. I’m sure you get the idea.
As much as I am relieved that the cast of John Gavanti actually sound like they are having a bit of fun creating this, rather than looming over us like free-jazz gestapo, I find some of this album rather hard to take. Can’t help but wonder if it was meant to be a novelty. Sumner Crane’s vocals come off as quite the convincing imitation of Cookie Monster with throat cancer, and I loooooove death metal and “boo! Scary” vocalists, but this is almost annoying. The music veers about drunkenly and haphazardly, collapsing in on itself, and periodically lashing out at the innocent passerby. The one moment of redemption is the piano swoon of “Mirror, Mirror,” with really-quite-lovely singing from Don Burg. It’s a record perfect for themed costume parties, OK?
Atavistic, P.O. Box 578266, Chicago, IL 60657; http://www.atavistic.com