Robert Bonati Chironomic Orchestra: Whirling Leaves

Duncan Heining By

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Robert Bonati Chironomic Orchestra: Whirling Leaves
Whirling Leaves is a wonderful, intriguing album from Roberto Bonati, one of Europe's most interesting and creative composers. Bonati's previous large ensemble records have all essayed specific themes, from "The Scottish Play" from The Blanket of the Dark, a Study for Lady Macbeth ( MM Records, 2001) to the migratory nature and evolution of medieval music on Le Rêve du Jongleur (Parafroniere, 1999). With Whirling Leaves, however, there appears to be no such programme intent here. The music is its own narrative.

On this record, Bonati draws upon Lawrence "Butch" Morris' conduction approach, that is the development of motifs, phrases and melodies in rehearsal that are then utilized in performance to create a "composition." One consequence of this is that the emergent form of the piece only becomes apparent on close listening. Given its length at 55 minutes, this may put off some potential listeners. That would be a great shame, as there is so much to appreciate here.

Firstly, there is its sense of mood. As its title Whirling Leaves suggests, this is autumnal music with colours and textures to match. Just like the season, periods of calm and quiet intersperse with others of blast, bluster and torrent. Secondly, there is the way that Bonati uses his instrumental resources. Gusts of flute, violin and voices are set against drone-like saxophone, bass and brass punctuated by stabbing interjections of a solo trumpet or violin. Elsewhere, the strings combine in a swirling ostinato over which soprano and alto saxophone interweave contrapuntal melodies. As for the voices, their use here is like that of a Greek chorus. No words, just sounds but one of the highlights of Whirling Leaves lies in the swooping vocalizations of the three singers. The correct term is portamento singing. Either way, it recalls the sense of watching flocks of birds moving and shifting position as one.

Thirdly, the choice of instrumentation is intriguing for the unexpected effects and colours it achieves. One example of this is the contrast at one point between the ominous low growl of arco bass, keening violin and the glossolalia-like voices. Another is to be found around halfway when the musicians combine to create strange, eerie harmonies across the whole orchestra. Later, the strings combine seemingly in different keys with voices, soprano and flute to create the most gorgeous impression of the sounds of nature. But ultimately, and herein lies the reason for Whirling Leaves' success, it is the way Bonati pulls such diverse elements together to create a coherent musical experience, rich in moments of great beauty, that rewards repeated listens.

Is it jazz? Probably not, if that really matters. Is it "Third Stream," the jazz that dares not speak its name? Its precedents are more likely to be found in the music of Luciano Berio and Anthony Braxton than Duke Ellington or Gil Evans. However, contemporary composition is as good a name as any. But the key thing is that this is very beautiful music. Perhaps Bonati did have a programme intent for Whirling Leaves. For this music feels very natural, very organic. It breaths. It has and is life. Magnificent, just like nature.

Track Listing

Whirling Leaves; Too Sharp, Too Flat.


Roberto Bonati: author.

Additional Instrumentation

Diletta Longhi, Angela Malagisi, Isabella Navarria: vocals ; Caterina Biagiarelli: flute, piccolo; Tomas Marvasi: bass clarinet; Gabriele Fava: soprano sax; Manuel Caliumi: alto sax; Claudio Morenghi: tenor sax; Fabio Frambati: flugelhorn; Alberto Ferretti, Antonio Ronchini: trumpet; Federica Catania, Sarah Valentina Pelosi, Paolo Ricci: violin; Andrea Grossi, Giacomo Marzi, Mattia Gianni Dallospedale, Giancarlo Patris: double bass.

Album information

Title: Whirling Leaves | Year Released: 2019 | Record Label: Parmafrontiere

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