Stefano Battaglia / Stefano Battaglia Trio

The River of Anyder

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Italian pianist and composer Stefano Battaglia has recorded three previous offerings for ECM, all in different settings. Interestingly, The River of Anyder is his first to feature his trio, with bassist Salvatore Maiore and drummer/percussionist Roberto Dani. Battaglia, formerly a classical pianist, approaches composition and improvisation from that vantage point. When he does enter the jazz realm, it is through Italy's own grand jazz tradition from the '70s era on. The album was recorded in 2009 and produced by Manfred Eicher at Lugano's Radiotelevisione Svizzera. Location matters, because the silences and spaces on this set are much warmer, and more intimate, than those Eicher usually gets in his Netherlands studio. The ten selections here are all titled for mythical geographies inspired by literary sources as diverse as Thomas More, J.R.R. Tolkein, Rumi, Rimbaud, Black Elk, Hildegard Von Bingen, and Francis Bacon. Battaglia begins the set with "Minas Tirith," introduced by hushed cymbals and a series of skeletal triads, Maiore enters playing the same note pattern, accenting and syncopating before Battaglia lets the still sparse, regal body of the tune come to the fore. The title piece features a near-classical solo prelude for an intro. When Maiore's bass enters with big wooden tones, the work begins to unfold as a minor-key lyric melody, full of elliptical, implied runs on the piano that are actually given forward movement by Dani's drums and percussion. The Rumi-inspired pieces like "Ararat Dance," for starters, find the pianist beginning his jazz ascent, taking a more prominent role, and double-timing his rhythm section with stellar arpeggios and ostinati. "Sham-Bha-Lah," one of the three longest tracks (which are all in the middle of the album), offers skeletal, harmonic frameworks that are fleshed out by drones from Maiore and circular rhythms from Dani. Inspired by von Bingen's "Columba Aspexit" plainchant sequence, Battaglia builds extended modes and knotty half-step arpeggios from her work. "Bensalem" (a mythical island of Atlantis) is the most straight-ahead tune here with pianist and rhythm section engaging one another in a songlike construct that flows openly and freely. Battaglia returns to Rumi in "Ararat Prayer" near the album's close. His minor-key melodic and modal inventions are simultaneously mysterious, fluid, and rhythmic, with gorgeous percussion work from Dani. The River of Anyder is an excellent addition to Battaglia's ECM catalog to be sure; more importantly, however, it is a fine showcase for the power, drama, and discipline of this trio in a recording studio.

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