To date, Stefano Battaglia’s ECM discography has taken the listener to many different places. The Italian pianist has reinterpreted art songs of Alec Wilder on In The Morning, set a dedication to Pina Bausch amid improvised duets on Pastorale, created new structures in the moment with Dominique Pifarély on Raccolto, drawn inspiration from mythical and legendary locations on The River of Anyder and Songways as well as from diverse way stations in the biography of a great Italian polymath on Re: Pasolini. Cultural and other influences flow into his music from very many directions.
Pelagos, Battaglia’s new double album of solo piano – recorded at the Fazioli Concert Hall in Sacile, Italy, last year – can be heard as an extended meditation on themes of exile and migration. “Reality sometimes suggests or implies improvisations and even repertoires,” he notes. Titles of individual pieces provide some directional clues and cues to the matter at hand.
Apart from the Arabic traditional song “Lamma Bada Yatathanna”, a tune with historical roots in Moorish Andalusia, which is heard in two variations, all the music here is by Battaglia. “Pelagos”, “Halap”, “Exilium”, “Migration Mantra”, and “Ufratu” are compositions by the pianist. All other pieces were spontaneously improvised, though Battaglia’s feeling for form makes also the extemporaneous pieces seem robust. The album derives from two sources: a live concert and a “closed doors” session at the Faziola Hall earlier the same day. The tracks “Destino”, “Migralia”, Processional”, “Halap”, “Life”, “Hora Mundi”, “Exilium”, “Migration Mantra”, “Heron”, and the version of “Lamma Bada Yatathanna” heard on CD 1 are all drawn from the concert performance.
Stefano Battaglia plays both piano and prepared piano here, sometimes simultaneously, exploring a remarkable range of sound colours in melodic and texturally-inventive pieces. Some, of almost hypnotic allure, seem to have an associative frame of reference spanning the distance between ritual music, traditional song, contemporary composition, and modal jazz, although Battaglia himself is wary of style definitions. As he once said, “For years I have tended to simplify, to aspire to a ‘de-idiomisation’ of the musical universe, and particularly to imagine music as a universal metalanguage, a place which is genuinely without boundaries, not just in words but in fact.”
In the original notes for the Sacile concert, given within the context of a Piano Jazz 2016 festival, Battaglia spoke of the conceptual themes running through his programme. These included “songs and dances of the suffering countries of the Mediterranean and Balkan areas”, and the practice of improvisation as a means of embracing the unknown, as “a manifesto for those who, like me, see it as a path of revelation, through all of its mysteries.”
Born in Milan in 1965, Stefano Battaglia originally trained as a classical pianist. He first attracted attention on the European festival scene, playing mainly baroque and 20th century music, before making the transition to music that incorporated improvisation, inspired initially by Paul Bley and Keith Jarrett. By the late 1980s he was winning jazz awards. Subsequently he played with Lee Konitz, Dewey Redman, Marc Johnson, Barre Phillips, Steve Swallow, Kenny Wheeler, Pierre Favre and Tony Oxley, among many others.
Battaglia has given master-classes at Siena Jazz each summer since 1988, and since 1996 he has led Siena’s Laboratorio Permanente di Ricerca Musicale, a musical research workshop, where he has been able to explore his interests in improvisation, composition and experimentation, in particular the improvisational practices of diverse musical languages.
He has been an ECM artist 2003, when the double album Raccolto (Harvest) was recorded.