Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Art of the Cover - Yvette Mimieux & Ali Akbar Khan's "Flowers Of Evil" (1968)

Pout Yvette  ... Pout!!!

An interesting concept album of sorts featuring blonde bombshell, Cult Cutie Yvette Mimieux, with no small help from Ali Akbar Khan.

Producer Alan Silver was talking to Life Magazine cover girl and actress Mimieux while both were attending a performance by Khan at the Hollywood Bowl when she admitted to a fantasy of recording a musical interpretation  of Charles Baudelaire's classic "Les Fleurs du Mal". 

According to Nat Hentoff's liner notes, Khan just happened to be in the room ("Yes Mr. Khan, a Miss Mimieux would like to come backstage, would that be alright?... Of course sir, I'll show right her in!") and when asked if he could conceive of participating in such a project, he assured them that with his admiration for the poems - and for Yvette, no doubt! - he would love to get involved!

No one knows exactly what substances Yvette and Ali were partaking in that night!

Yvette narrates the pieces here, over original music composed by Ali Akbar Khan - who also plays sarod and lute. 

Khan also plays sarod and lute, while Pandit Mahapurush Misra plays the tabla. The tamboura player here is, unfortunately, not credited.

Yvette Mimieux had great success in the 1960s as a film actress. While she displayed talent and charisma in films such as Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and Time Machine, an album of poetry reading seems a bit perplexing. Is this a supercilious vanity project or spoken word performance? The answer is the latter and a near-masterpiece at that. Yvette Mimieux took translations of Les Fleurs du Mal set to the impeccable classical Indian music of Ali Akhbar Khan, and created a very special album here.

The album begins with "To a Passer-by," where a beautiful widow is admired by the narrator of the poem (Charles Baudelaire) as she passes by in Paris. "Veuve" and "widow" both derives from ancient words for loneliness in several languages such as Latin and Sanskrit. There is a great deal of poetic wonder and admiration here.

The next poem, "A Voyage to Cythera," details a trip in the Mediterranean near the famed island where the beautiful goddess Aphrodite was born. Baudelaire traveled on an aborted trip to Calcutta and passed Cythera, and he also alludes to Journey to the Orient (Peter Owen Modern Classic) but with a more cynical, rather bitter-sweet attitude.

The poem "Murdered Woman" reflects on a recently deceased woman like a martyr to an irresistible seductress and indelible muse of passion and love. This is a darkly romantic poem, which was surprisingly not one of the ones censored by French authorities in the 1850s.

The poem "The Albatross" is the best of the album. It details the large and powerful bird, which was often abused and mocked by cruel and bored sailors who failed to respect the wonder of this magnificent beast. The allegorical relationship between the tormented albatross and the poet is perfect and Baudelaire has a tender sympathy for the oppressed in the world whose wings are clipped by the vicious and powerful. Mimieux's performance on this track is fierce and strong.

Throughout all these readings, Yvette Mimieux directly, purposefully and serious recites with passion, humor and vigor at apposite times. Khan's masterful and gorgeous music is the perfect backdrop for Mimieux's velvety and feminine voice. I would not hesitate to recommend this for any fan of Baudelaire, poetry or spoken word performances.

By Endless Kitchen  


1. To a Passer - by
2. A Voyage to Cythera, Pt. 1
3. A Voyage to Cythera, Pt. 2
4. Murdered Woman, Pt. 1
5. Murdered Woman, Pt. 2
6. The Albatross
7. Lethe, Pt. 1
8. Lethe, Pt. 2
9. Episode, Pt. 1
10. Episode, Pt. 2


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