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Roberto Bonati Trio: Bianco il vestito nel buio

John Kelman By

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Spending considerable time as Artistic Director of Italy's creative ParmaFrontiere— occurring in Parma each fall, a festival small in size but broad in scope—Roberto Bonati spends the rest of his time as a double bassist who, amongst other things, is one of Gianluigi Trovesi's top-calls, last heard with the Italian saxophonist/clarinetist's Ottetto on Fugace (ECM, 2003). Leading his own groups, more often than not Bonati writes for larger ensembles, specifically the ParmaFrontiere Orchestra that includes, amongst others, Siena-based pianist Stefano Battaglia. All of which makes Bianco il vestito nel buio such a welcome addition to Bonati's discography as a leader, an intimate trio date, live from ParmaFrontiere 2011, that's a significant contrast to his larger ensemble sessions. Pianist Alberto Tacchini (curiously, not well-known outside of Italy) joins Bonati, as does Roberto Dani, a busy drummer at home who, as a member of Battaglia's trio on two sublime ECM recordings— River of Anyder (2011) and Songways (2013)—is beginning to garner international visibility as well.

With a classical background clearly underscoring his improvisational approach, Bonati describes the formation of this trio "with the idea of looking at the trio format in a new perspective; considering the three musicians as soloists in a chamber trio." It's no surprise, then, that for the most part Bianco il vestito nel buio's seven Bonati compositions provide plenty of solo space—a cappella, in duo subsets and as a clearly cohesive trio. The music is often rubato, sometimes whisper quiet and, while possessed of gentle melodies that stay in the mind long after the performance, travels to more completely free terrain, albeit always with the unerring guidance of Bonati's structural roadmaps. Dani's work with Battaglia—like Bonati, a musician for whom free playing always possesses a sense of purpose—makes him an ideal foil here, while Tacchini's largely soft touch recalls American pianist Marc Copland but whose underlying approach comes, like Bonati, from a combination of classical upbringing, cultural concerns and hints of the American tradition so largely subsumed as to be less than discretely identifiable.

All of this and more is revealed in the opening "Tacea la notte placida," Tacchini beginning so quietly as to be barely audible; when Bonati and Dani enter, it's still pianissimo, but just as its core structure is revealed more forcefully, things quickly dissolve to a drum solo redolent of rich textural explorations and no small attention to melody. When the rest of the trio reenters, it's to reiterate Bonati's compositional foundation and, at the same time, interpret it freely. Bonati's pizzicato is warm, yet there's clear definition to his notes, irrespective of register. Elsewhere, his arco is equally appealing on "Miserere II," another composition covering substantial ground, from its strong thematic beginning to a freer midsection, where the trio turns as expressionistic as it ever gets, its tremendous dynamic control rendering even the smallest shift dramatic and meaningful.

Two years on, the clear chemistry of Bianco il vestito nel buio and Bonati's success in forming a chamber trio with multiple improvisational possibilities suggests a follow-up would be in order. As 2014 begins with a new Bonati recording planned, one can only hope.

Track Listing: Tacea la notte placida; Miserere II; End of March; Settembre; Blanco il vestito nel buio; Early Morning; Lacrymosa.

Personnel: Alberto Tacchini: piano; Robert Bonati: acoustic bass; Roberto Dani: drums.

Title: Bianco il vestito nel buio | Year Released: 2014 | Record Label: Parmafrontiere

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