The Milanese pianist Stefano Battaglia says that the ten new compositions on his latest album were “inspired by descriptions of visionary places from art and literature”. He cites Alfred Kubin, Jonathan Swift and Charles Fourier among his inspirators, but the name that struck the truest chord with me was the last mentioned, Italo Calvino.
The music of Songways shares both Calvino’s arch expressive formality and his conceptual playfulness.
Battaglia also says that with the music of Songways he sought: “a new harmonic balance between archaic modal pre-tonal chant and dances, pure tonal songs and hymns and abstract texture…(a) natural development of the Trio life, with a larger space for action from the drums”.
Yet that “larger space for action” doesn’t signify percussive prominence: drummer Roberto Dani is a model of restraint, always seeking to accent or burnish the leader’s pianism, which is itself more lyrical than percussive. Freed from emphatic timekeeping, Dani is free to concentrate on lighter textural effects, which he explores with brushwork, bright small-cymbal hits, and the singing-bowl resonance of bowed cymbals.
The latter effect is heard most beautifully during the intro to “Armonia”, one of just two tracks lasting over 10 minutes, where the trio reaches for the sublime. Salvatore Maiore, on double bass, lays out while Dani accompanies Battaglia’s stately proem, but when he enters, the bassist does so with a strong supple independent melody that’s worthy of a late 70s R&B-style pop song. Elsewhere he mostly tiptoes or pads easily among the delicate latticework of filigree percussives and the leader’s expositions of reflexivity, though on the title composition he carries the tune with gracile tenderness.
Battaglia’s interest in percussion was more overt on the 2010 album Pastorale, recorded in duo with percussionist and electronics manipulator Michele Rabbia. Songways picks up the threads of 2011’sThe River of Anyder, which was recorded with the current trio, and the present album consolidates the trio as a working unit. This marks a departure for Battaglia, whose MO was hitherto changeful.
Stefano Battaglia piano; Salvatore Maiore double bass; Roberto Dani drums.