Album reviews

Roberto Bonati and ParmaFrontiere Orchestra – ‘La Fòla De L’Oca /Over Time’

Roberto Bonati and ParmaFrontiere Orchestra – La Fòla De L’Oca / Over Time
(ParmaFrontiere label. Album review by Fiona Mactaggart.

La Fòla de l’Oca, an ancient and surreal refrain, a wild goose chase, is an ironic rigmarole that my grandmother would repeat when I was a child and that for me has the smell of the earth, of our countryside, a world that no longer exists but where my roots are. It seemed a fitting title for a work on Time..” (Bonati, 2023)

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To someone who occasionally ‘sees’ incidents before they actually occur, that strange phenomenon we call ‘time’ has long intrigued. So my hope was that Roberto Bonati’s musical meditation upon time, La Fòla De L’Oca /Over Time, might perhaps throw some light…

Bonati is a Parma-based double bass player, composer and conductor, and an important figure on the Italian experimental, jazz and improvisation scenes. Following Parma becoming Italian Capital of Culture 20/21, he composed La Fòla de l’Oca (meaning ‘the goose’s tale’) for an orchestra of young musicians to be drawn from across Europe. Thanks to the covid pandemic however, only six musicians could be invited, hailing from Oslo, Nürnberg, Hamburg, Göteborg, Stavanger and Glasgow, The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland’s tenor saxophonist Simon Herberholz being the UK representative.

These six had the exemplary learning experience of being joined by twelve established members of Bonati’s ParmaFrontiere Orchestra. In autumn 2021, following a week of rehearsals, this album was recorded in front of a live audience in the 17th century Teatro Farnese. Bonati conducted.

The resultant album consists of seven mostly instrumental pieces, with just a sprinkling of vocals from soprano Giulia Zaniboni, the lyrics being drawn from greats Saint Augustine, Heraclitus, Marcus Aurelius and Walt Whitman.

The larger-scale ‘symphonic’ pieces impress most of all. The album opens with one of the album’s most beautiful extended pieces: Quid Est Ergo Tempus? Night insect noises merge into an elderly female voice questioning a youngster, presumably reflecting Bonati’s childhood interactions with his grandmother. However, the orchestra grows increasingly prominent, indeed briefly forbidding, swelling then receding in wave-like rhythm. Zaniboni’s bell-like voicing of Saint Augustine’s words adds poignancy, indeed her intermittent singing throughout this album is one of its many pleasures.

Instrumentalists likewise have brief solos, one highlight being in Apidón Eis To Tachos which starts out quietly and at measured pace, but becomes quite rambunctious in the last three minutes thanks to Luca Perciballi’s hugely fun electric guitar. Further deliciously ‘out there’ jazz can be heard in the gallumphing rhythm of the Sun Ra – evoking Potamós.

Final piece Aión is worthy of particular mention, with a charming trombone reitteration of the original theme, and the orchestra personnel all singing the final words in unison, Zaniboni alone singing the very last words.

La Fòla De L’Oca is a glorious album of orchestral jazz that combines a winning mix of thoughtfulness, technical prowess and beauty and helps us think about that perplexing phenomenon: time.

ParmaFrontiere Orchestra:

Roberto Bonati – composition and conduction
Giulia Zaniboni – vocals
Mario Arcari – oboe
Marco Ignoti – clarinets
Riccardo Luppi – soprano sax and flute
Simon Andreas Fredheim Folkvord – alto sax
Simon Herberholz – tenor sax
Michael Gassmann – trumpet and flugelhorn
Benjamin Löfgren – trumpet/flugelhorn
Fabius Mey – trombone
Finn Henrik Stamer – violin
Ingrid Berg Mehus – violin
Paolo Botti – viola
Gregorio Buti – cello 
Luca Perciballi – guitar
Tommaso Salvadori – vibraphone
Andrea Grossi – double bass
Roberto Dani – drums, percussion

Fiona Mactaggart lives in Edinburgh, writes about music on Scottish Jazz Space and is co-founder of Jazz Forward.

LINK: La Fòla De de L’Oca on Bandcamp

Categories: Album reviews, Reviews

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