Bruno Bavota – The Secret Of The Sea (2014)


I’ve been contacted by Bruno before, sometime last year, via an agent and in a comment on my About page. Sadly I tend not to take those impersonal copy-pasted messages particularly seriously and I didn’t follow through. However it seems that Bruno has a new album out in a few months time and was still interested in what I potentially had to say because I received an interesting email from him and here we are. And in this new album we’re presented with the concept of the eternal fascination that Bruno and so many others share with the big, mysterious oceans of the world.

This man-sea love story begins in opener “Me And You”, introduced and largely led by calming, lightly reverbed acoustic guitar riffs followed by lightweight tinkling of the ivories ; one, the slow, pulsating rhythms of the waves, the other their sparkling, reflective surface. Electric guitar drone croons distantly later in the piece, creating a thin and delicate ambience and underlining the intimacy of this track. It, and a number of other pieces on this release, remind me rather strongly of other Modern Classical musicians Balmorhea, especially their later work. “Les Nuit Blanches” brings the focus back to the piano, of which Bruno is perhaps best known for, with an uncomplicated and rather wistful performance. It starts at a crawl but the slight increase in pace and attack only lends further credence to the rather melancholic and minor key, and when it cant be evaded the closing moments collapse with a few slow, sad keystrokes.

That beautiful Balmorhea sound reappears in “The Man Who Chased The Sea”, following through with further guitars with their steel strings whining and grating along chord changes. They sink slowly to an accompanying repetitive background noise while more empowered and strong piano takes the foreground. It’s feels something like a rat race, with the initial acoustic guitar being this seed or idea looping and itching restlessly in the back of the mind, whilst the piano is the action and physical desire to return to the sea front and gaze upon its endless surface once more. “Hidden Lights Through Smoky Clouds” folds the fevered pace with creeping, distally thick violin drones flowing gently deep in the heart of the piece, matched with more enthusiastic piano above in this beautiful introspective.

“If Only My Heart Were Wide Like The Sea” brings some more challenging concepts to the fore, with heartwrenchingly beautiful minimal guitar playing intimately and mournfully in the introduction, so close you can almost see and touch it. The piano that subsequently underpins this rather emotionally damaged piece is further away and is only brief, a small and restless interlude musing uncomfortably on one’s self. All of the familiar instrumentation comes through in the rather chipper “Constellations”, the sea’s similarly endless counterpart in the sky. It shimmies and bounces jovially, almost jerkily, rather than the more smooth and fluid motions of the sea-dominated tracks, mirroring the placid, shimmering lights in the continually turning sky, bursting in and out through tufts of cloud and the lights of the street. The admiration of the night sky similarly comes through in the appropriately titled “Northern Lights” as flutters of high-strung guitar and piercing but delicate intrusions of faint guitar drone supplement the flowing piano as it shifts and pulses and changes colour.

For an album focused on the sea, there has been a distinct lack of any seaside sounds (somewhat thankfully), until “The Boy And The Whale” opens to the slow and gentle lapping of distant and what sounds like quite lo-fi waves. Once more the piano takes a slow, considered and uphill style, starting rather downtrodden but picking up the pieces and the pace of this melancholic sound as it progresses, aching to be back at the sea front as it turns over the sounds of those enticing waves again and again. And before we know what’s happened, the title track is upon us with mean and imposing piano rattling and pounding at the gates of our mind. It slipstreams into something similarly empowered in the more melodic sequences to follow, peaking and troughing alternately in anxious & fearful and regretful & resigned atmospheres respectively. We can pour our hearts into the sea all we like but there is nothing truly cathartic about it, it gives us nothing back.

Lastly, closer “Chasing Stars” is upon us, flicking rapidly from dark and imposing to rapid and rather upbeat in the disconcerting blink of an eye; suddenly things go from sounding and seeming crushing and hopeless to hopeful and inspired in a second as the slow, heavy blows turn into a tumble of relentless keystrokes, only to disappear into the darkness in the final moments as the piece falls apart and the melodies slow to nothingness and the curtains are drawn on the album at last.

While I do really enjoy this album, I think I admire it more for its technical skill than its emotional output; clearly this is a work that Bruno has put a lot of time and personal thought and emotion into but for me that just isn’t expressed as well as I thought it might have been. There are too many twists, too many pace changes and inconsistencies between pieces; I wish there could have been fewer, longer tracks. I love the interplay between the instrumentation and I wont ever not love solo piano, but I cant help but somewhat disconnected to the concept of the release, especially in the second half. Beautiful but somewhat alienating to me.