Stefano Battaglia

The Swiss Radio Tapes, Vol. 2: Musica Centripeta

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Stefano Battaglia is one of the great improvising jazz pianists in Italy's history. His touch is nimble, deft, light, and quick, yet deeply resonant with whatever music he's playing. If it calls for a heavy hand, he can drop the beef on the keys with a kind of final authority. However, this solo collection, the second in a three-volume set of works recorded for Swiss radio in 1997, does not reveal Battaglia as an in-the-pocket sideman or itinerant bandleader running his troops through a new composition. Musica Centripeta is Battaglia alone, facing the piano as one faces an empty sheet of paper. His compositions -- many of them spontaneous -- take their time, articulating the inner ear of harmonic construction and proceeding to erect little scalar structures that shift and seem to flit by until a number of them are assembled into one large idea. Then it becomes breathtaking. He has a willingness to involve atonality and dissonance in the same way that Mozart did in the Haydn quartets, allowing them to inform a consonant narrative, a short tale that is poignant and foreshadows what comes after it -- not the cases in point in the opener "Il Volo Dell'ibis," "Madame Blavatsky," "Illusionista," and "Limbus." In this way, Battaglia compositionally references both Keith Jarrett and Paul Bley; however, improvisationally, his familial ties are much closer to Bill Evans, especially in his willingness to allow the rhythm to take him for a ride through the improvisation. This second volume must have been a treat to record because, in its elegance and austere grace, it is nothing less than a small masterpiece.

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