Georges Montalba
Fantasy In Pipe Organ
And Percussion 





Who is Georges Montalba? Many websites, blogs and encyclopedias have already answered the question about this mysterious pseudonym and picked Broadway arranger Robert Hunter (1929–2001) as the winner, with the two runners up being the infamously daemoniac Anton LaVey who himself half-jokingly announced to be the real Signore Montalba, as well as John Roland Redd who rose to fame and TV stardom with his fake biography of an Indian organ wizard called Korla Pandit. So there you have it: Robert Hunter is Georges Montalba, but this is only of particular interest when one considers his later career. His gut feeling about using a temporary stage name proved to be right. Otherwise, I am not interested in gossip, smokescreens and false claims, but the essence of one special cult classic of the Wurlitzer kind: Fantasy In Pipe Organ And Percussion by Georges Montalba is recorded in 1958 and released in the following year on David L. Miller’s Somerset label, famous for being the home of the orchestral brand 101 Strings. And this is the first in-depth review of it… for better or worse.


Montalba comes up with a mere seven compositions, but don’t let the low count fool you. Many of these interpretations cross the six-minute barrier and comprise of well-known, truly eternal material that even crosses the paths to Exotica once in a while. The genre is hard to pinpoint and shuttles between Space-Age, Gothic music, neo-Classicism and, well, Exotica. What Montalba does better than fellow Korla Pandit is the embellishment of the pipe organ. While this instrument is capable of spawning multitudes of timbres, textures and patterns, Montalba is also accompanied by unmentioned instrumentalists who play timpani, tambourines and mallet instruments, all of them further nurturing the respective atmospheres which range from dubious over estranging to downright gleeful. Read more about a fascinatingly saturated and greatly carved out work that is even of use to those listeners who despise organs in general and Korla Pandit’s oddities in particular.


This is not your typical Space-Age pipe organ album, a fact that cannot be stressed enough, but all these words and pseudo-erudite explications do not help until the first notes of the opener hit, and this one comes in the shape of Charles-Camille Saint-SaënsDanse Macabre, a beast of over six minutes launching with a creepy midnight bell, followed by menacingly crepuscular pipe organ bursts which sound like histrionic horror strings. But wait, it truly gets macabre alright: car organ textures as well as jocular xylophone droplets forcefully intertwine in adjacency to the clinging tambourine and smashing cymbals. Sure, the original of Saint-Saëns is all about shapeshifting sequences and Gothic gestalts, but the greater pool of textures boosts the creepiness decidedly. From semi-Mediterranean fear over rufescent maelstroms to mutant-populated playgrounds, Georges Montalba knows how to use the darker traces of Space-Age and multiplies them adamantly. No wonder Anton LaVey would have been proud to be the arranger of this rendition.


Mazurka From Masquerade follows, originally written by Aram Khatchaturian whom is primarily known in Exotica lands (and elsewhere) for his staccato shrapnel composition called Sabre Dance. This piece, however, becomes honestly fascinating once it is in the ghoulish hands of Montalba. Only running for a tad over two minutes, it captures that clichéd fairground spirit, but only uses it as a base frame for the vesiculating xylophone blebs and sizzling triangles to traverse in-between. The pipe organ sounds enormously staggering and multiplexes cosmic rays and earthbound beams aplenty, with the third tune of side A, the odd March Fantasy written by a guy or collaboration of writers called Hunter-Emig, augmenting the factor of cameraderie and togetherness by sporting a decidedly amicable aura of organ washes which is then placed near dead-serious cymbals and hi-hat cavalcades, leaving no doubt that Fantasy In Pipe Organ And Percussion is a humongous work.


The interim closer In A Persian Market by Albert Ketèlbey frequently appears in symphonic Exotica-oriented albums and sees its pentatonic and Oriental shadiness increase via sunset-colored organ arabesques, rattling tambourines and bone-crushing timpani. Sugar-sweet Ambient segues charged with vibraphones, vitreous chimes, orchestra bells and a susurrant backing organ turn the murkiness upside down and appear like a divine interstice between genius and madness.


Side B comprises of three long-form tracks, starting with the gargantuan opus by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov called Theme From Scheherazade, presented here in a version of over seven minutes. In short: this rendition is the primary reason to review the album right here in the Exotica section. It starts with medulla-emptying organ eruptions, true, but immediately gives in to a mellow mélange of warmhearted vibraphone tones. Their glissandos become enmeshed and unleash heterodyned layers of phantasmagoria, with the following emaciated organ tones providing the girdling circumambience to the mystery. The pitch reaches lower regions of the benign kind, even the short but mandatory military march structure transfigures both the situation and physiognomy of Scheherezade. I’m not kidding: Georges Montalba does everything right, and thanks to the instrumental pool, the arrangement does not feel gimmicky, let alone faces the danger of being reduced to the organ alone.


Up next is Manuel de Falla’s Ritual Fire Dance, and this one is a blast despite – or because of – its strangely silkened appearance. The quavering organ flumes evoke fireflies or dragonflies and unchain an enormous pressure, as do the grim timpani, but the strings and xylophones more often than not form counterparts to the enigmatically bustling scenery, leading to a euphoric climax. With Alexander Borodin’s Polovtsian Dances, a comparably complex and ever-changing classic closes the album. Despite its constant fluxion, there is not much else to say other than that the triad of xylophone, timpani and organ is constantly pieced together anew, with majestic stages serving as vestibules to beatless intersections of contemplation before a more ecclesiastic endpoint is reached.


Whoever Georges Montalba really was, is, or will be tomorrow, Fantasy In Pipe Organ And Percussion is a dream come true for organ fans who are fond of prominent aggrandizements and incessant ornamental particles in the well-known shapes of xylophones, timpani and tambourines. The long runtime of most of the compositions in tandem with the dedicated approach in presenting their constituting segues are the key features of this LP. The organ naturally remains in the limelight, imposing cavalcades of colors, depths and layers, showing the instrument’s etymological trace by extrapolating its denotation into a living, figuratively organic being. The additional instruments and percussion devices really prevent this album from being perceived as either gimmicky or an echopraxia of John Roland Redd’s Korla Pandit shtick.


The wealth of formations and shapes the organ emanates ought to offer enough enchantment to the connoisseur, and yet the droning stampede of timpani adds a lot of gravitas and impetus to the work. Best of all is Robert Hunter/Georges Montalba’s openness in terms of the mood range: what starts with downright soul-destroying dangers becomes delightfully portentous until a crimson light is reached. Compositions like Theme From Scheherezade and In A Persian Market make good use of the mallet instruments by even adding a vibraphone to the roster. In addition, they showcase the compatibility with – and link to – the Exotica genre, not just because of the track titles themselves, but the particular ways they are arranged. Space-Age, Exotica, proto-Hauntology? It is everything at once, mightily impressive around Halloween and thankfully re-issued in digital form as early as in 2003. Fantasy In Pipe Organ And Percussion is not my first choice during a hot summer’s day, but the occasional hibernal night could well be ennobled by this monolithic hybrid alright.


Exotica Review 272: Georges Montalba – Fantasy In Pipe Organ And Percussion (1959). Originally published on Oct. 19, 2013 at