On his sixth album for ECM the Italian pianist Stefano Battaglia presents music with a special thematic focus: While his ECM debut Raccolto (2003) had honored his musical heroes Bill Evans and Paul Bley, Re:Pasolini (2007) was a tribute to the Italian filmmaker and polymath, and the compositions on The River of Anyder (2009) and Songways (2012) were mostly named after mythical and legendary locations, each of them conferring specific atmospheres. On In the Morning Battaglia and his trio now reflect on the work of American composer Alec Wilder (1907–1980), known for his popular songs (recorded by Peggy Lee, the Mills Brothers, Frank Sinatra and others) as well as his chamber music and operas and his influential book ‘American Popular Song: The Great Innovators (1900–1950)’.
“I first came into a more direct contact with Alec Wilder’s music in the early 90s, when I was performing his Sonata for Oboe and Piano and his Sonata for Horn and Piano”, Battaglia remembers. “I had already known some of his popular songs like ‘While We’re Young’, ‘Blackberry Winter’ and ‘Moon and Sand’ through the intense versions Keith Jarrett has recorded. But after working on Wilder’s chamber music I wanted to develop a deeper connection with his intriguing musical universe, and I've discovered an immense hidden treasure.”
Battaglia admires Wilder for what he calls “the idiosyncratic mixture of styles” in his music: “To me Alec Wilder represents the home of American music in the largest sense, from theatre to movie, from popular to classical, with a wide range of forms and genres including chamber music for all the instruments, music for children, night music, film scores, orchestrations and arrangements, operas and drama. The most interesting ‘room’ in this home for me is the one called ‘Art Songs’, where Wilder rendered in music some contemporary poems by great poets like William Butler Yeats, Tennessee Williams, James Stephens or Christina Rossetti.“
Almost three years after their last ECM album Songways, Battaglia and his partners Salvatore Maiore and Roberto Dani give evidence of an almost telepathic rapport on In The Morning, a live recording from April 2014 at Teatro Vittoria in Torino. Battaglia says that for him the trio per se is one of the most rewarding formats in music, whether in classical traditions, jazz or rock.
Battaglia sees his trio as part of a tradition which includes the legendary line-ups of Jimmy Giuffre/Paul Bley/Steve Swallow, Bill Evans/Scott La Faro/Paul Motian and Bley/Swallow/La Roca for the 1960s; the Jarrett/Haden/Motian and Bley/Peacock/Motian trios for the 1970s; and Jan Garbarek/Egberto Gismonti/Haden as well as Jarrett/Peacock/DeJohnette for the 1980s and later.
“I love Salvatore's sound, deep and magnetic. And his electrifying rhythm as well. And Roberto is one of the most original drummers that I've heard all over the world. He has an incredible perception and touch, furthermore he uses a special tuning, very open, with a wide range of resonances, with a very deep and dark bass drum, combined with shining cymbals. His symphonic bass drum has changed my way to choose the voicings, for this reason I prefer to use open and ‘empty’ orchestrations basically founded on neutral intervals like second, fourth and empty fifth. I think this combination has been the most important detail for the sound of the trio. Roberto's prepared drums sound like a piano, and his technique is very ‘pianistic’ as well, creating special balances for a piano-trio.”