Bassist/composer Roberto Bonati is one of the most imaginative and creative composers working in 2023. His past recordings evidence a fondness for literary and philosophical concerns, grand conceits that his compositional skills are more than able to match. A Silvery Silence: fragments from Moby Dick (MM Records 2006) pondered obsession versus conscience, while The Blanket of the Dark, a Study for Lady Macbeth ( MM Records, 2001) explored Shakespeare's -and Verdi's -tragic themes from the lady's perspective. Le Rêve du Jongleur (Parafrontiere, 1999) was even more ambitious, drawing extensively upon early and liturgical music as it examined how the coalescence of different influences from both "sacred and popular repertoires" came together in the development of western art music. Now, with La fòla de l'oca/Overtime, Bonati surveys the mystery of time or rather how we measure, perceive and understand its mysteries.
A glance at the instrumentation used on La fòla de l'oca/Overtime indicates that any fan anticipating tightly-written horn charts and blistering solos set to a driving rhythm section will be disappointed. Instead, Bonati makes full use of his four-piece rhythm section along with a string quartet to create incredibly rich harmonic textures from which solos emerge organically in service of his compositions. As illustration of Bonati's abilities listen to the series of crescendos and diminuendos on "Quid est ergo tempus" and the way Giulia Zaniboni's voice is used to suggest the lone individual contemplating time's all too fleeting passage. Later on in this piece, Andrea Grossi's bass offers a rhythmic counterpoint to the orchestra's playing of the main theme. This simple device is hugely effective musically, suggesting perhaps how we experience present time as something more than a brief fragmentary moment in our existence.
"Quid est ergo tempus" is a fine example of 'how to do' extended composition in jazz. Indeed, the same would apply to several of these seven tracks, notably "Potamós" and "Amid Time." A further example comes at the end of the final track, "Aión." Bonati follows Fabius Mey's trombone solo with a long exposition of the theme by the whole ensemble. A lesser composer might have settled for the obvious tutti finale. Bonati, however, closes with the Zaniboni's unaccompanied voice to fashion the perfect ending to the piece and to the whole performance.
But it is also intriguing how Bonati makes use of a simpler song-based form on "Achanès tu aiónos" maintaining compositional interest throughout without just relying on the creative imagination of his soloists. The rubato opening is just the beginning but the way that the orchestra, rather than just rhythm section, offers harmonic support behind with Michael Gassmann's trumpet or behind Zaniboni's voice adds a whole other dimension. Elsewhere, on "Potamós" for example, the techniques Bonati uses owe much more to contemporary composition than to more familiar jazz-based approaches. There is almost something Zappa-esqueand highly effective -about the piece with its use of rhythmic counterpoint, contrary motion and dissonant harmonies. It is not so much goal-directed as internally focused on the unfolding of its own musical processestime experienced rather than time passing. If the colours Bonati uses in the main tend towards the autumnal, not only is this appropriate to his subject but these tones are used to produce music that seems to envelope the listener in their warm embrace. An astonishingly beautiful record.
Quid est ergo tempus; Achanès tu aiónos; Apidón eis to tachos; In te anime meus; Potamós; Amid Time; Aión.
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