Roberto Bonati

The Blanket of the Dark

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Roberto Bonati enjoys big projects, the sort that grab you right away with their grandiosity, although his productions are always tempered by good taste. For this one, he confronts Shakespeare, both generally and through the story of Lady MacBeth, and some of Verdi's operatic interpretations of the playwright. As usual, Bonati's vehicle is a top-rate Italian conglomeration called the ParmaFrontiere Orchestra, some of whose strongest players are a select group of well-known improvisers, including pianist Stefano Battaglia, flutist and saxophonist Riccardo Luppi, and trumpeter Michael Gassman. Bonati pulls from a multitude of sources, and while composers are sometimes praised for mixing genres, few do it on the grand scale evidenced here. At any moment, in almost any piece, expect one or more of pop and rock roots, hard-hitting straight-ahead jazz solos, free improvisation, and operatic grandeur. There is an orchestral touch to the instrumentation, which includes viola, cello, clarinet, and oboe among the 13 players (not including the conductor or the vocalist). There is no question that this is "serious" music," something that is reinforced by the vocals, which are realized somewhat stiffly by the tuneful Lucia Minetti, and are counterbalanced by the expansive solos of the underrated Riccardo Luppi and the marvelous, if limited, contributions of Michael Gassman's wild trumpet. There are few writers anywhere with the depth of vision of Bonati or with his encyclopedic knowledge of musical traditions, and it is not difficult to compare his modus operandi to that of Ellington, by way of a wholly different set of influences, regional, ethnic, and operational. While the instant recording is difficult to grasp, it rewards the attentive listener with densely layered hooks that challenge conventional perspectives. Bonati is nobody's person but his own, and this release adds another important page to his discography, which is over time becoming one of the most impressive collections of works for large ensembles.

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