Italian pianist Stefano Battaglia’s trio received much critical praise for the 2009 ECM recording “The River of Anyder” (ECM 2151), with Down Beat writing of “novel and utterly delightful lyricism” and allaboutjazz.com hailing it as “one of the year’s most beautiful piano recordings: an undercurrent of gentle push-and-pull, flowing beneath its endless wellspring of haunting melodism, gives it its depth and weight, even as its diaphanous interaction suggests an evolving language.” “Songways”, recorded in April 2012, is precisely concerned with the further evolution of that musical language.
“The new step”, Stefano Battgalia explains, represents “a new harmonic balance between archaic modal pre-tonal chant and dances, pure tonal songs and hymns and abstract texture.”
Songs, chants and dances – each of the forms offers Battaglia and bassist Salvatore Maiore plenty of room to develop lyrical ideas. And, as the trio has developed, an expanded space has opened up for the drums also, giving Roberto Dani opportunities for textural shading and for playing melodically across the kit, hypersensitive to the pitches of drums and cymbals.
For “Songways” the trio returned to Lugano’s Auditorio Radiotelevisione Svizzera, with Manfred Eicher producing. The dynamics captured here are those of an improvising trio listening intently and responding to each other in the natural acoustic of an exceptional recital room. As with its predecessor, the new disc takes many of its inspirations from legendary or mythical places in literature or religious and philosophical texts. Battaglia’s canvas is broader than ‘jazz’, and he has always drawn influence also from arts beyond music. Some of the allusions here:
“Ismaro”, or Ismarus, is the city Odysseus attacks in Homer’s account of his long journey home. The “Mildendo Wide Song” is, Battaglia says, inspired by Jonathan Swift’s description of the capital of Lilliput in Gulliver’s Travels. Title track “Songways” pays homage to Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities, and “Armonia” takes its cue from Charles Fourier’s utopian Theory of The Four Movements, while “Abdias” is named for the novella by Adalbert Stifter. The free floating “Vondervotteimittis” alludes to the clock-obsessed town in Edgar Allan Poe’s The Devil In The Belfry. “Monte Analogo”, Mount Analogue, is the title and destination of Renée Daumal’s surrealist book. (Daumal was also a Gurdjieff student and something of the patience and centred focus of Gurdjieff’s music may find an echo here). “Perla” is a city in Die Andere Seite (The Other Side) the novel by Austrian expressionist illustrator Alfred Kubin. And the “Babel Hymn”, of course, references the Genesis story of the Tower of Babel and God’s confounding of the Earth’s language. These are amongst the sources that fire Stefano Battaglia’s imagination.
Battaglia (born 1965 in Milan) first drew international attention as a classical pianist, playing music from baroque and early music to 20th century composition, touring the European festivals in this capacity, before making the transition to music that incorporated improvisation, inspired initially by Paul Bley and Keith Jarrett. A strong feeling for structure, a legacy from the ‘classical’ years, continues to inform all his work. He has been an ECM artist since 2003, when the double album “Raccolto” (ECM 1933) was recorded. Subsequent releases have included “Re: Pasolini” (ECM 1998/99) a tribute to the Italian filmmaker and polymath, which includes contributions from Salvatore Maiore and Roberto Dani, and “Pastorale” (ECM 2120), an album of duets with Michele Rabbia.
Salvatore Maiore was born in Sassari in 1965, and studied double bass at the Cagliari conservatory. He has played with numerous Italian configurations and worked with visiting musicians including Lee Konitz, Billy Cobham, Joseph Jarman, Steve Grossman, Cedar Walton, Oliver Lake, and David Liebman. His discography includes recordings with Glauco Venier, Klaus Gesing, Al DiMeola and many others.
Roberto Dani was born in Vicenza, Italy in 1969 and began playing drums at the age of 7. He has specialized in small ensemble work, exploring the borders between improvised and written music. His own bands and projects have included Norma Winstone, Louis Sclavis, Michel Godard and others. He has also played with Annette Peacock, Ralph Alessi, Ben Monder, Mick Goodrick and many more. He has played numerous solo concerts and also issued solo drum albums, recent releases include “Lontano”, for prepared drums, on the Stella Nera label.