Stefano Battaglia / Unknown Flames

Unknown Flames: Live in Siena

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The Italian jazz trio Unknown Flames are anything but. The band is comprised of pianist Stefano Battaglia, bassist Paolino Dalla Porta, and drummer Roberto Gatto, three of the best-known jazzmen in Italy. This double-CD live date is a true portrait of the depth and dimension of vision -- and technical acumen -- that this trio possesses. Over two hours and 13 selections, only two are standards from the jazz repertoire: a long and otherworldly reading of Lerner and Loewe's "I've Grown Accustomed to Your Face" and a modal version of Bill Evans' "Orbit." The rest ranges from the insanely fluid, frighteningly quick post-bop vanguardism of "Toy Roads" to the deep, mournful lyricism of Dalla Porta's "Lullaby for Ugo" to the shimmering glissando pastoral pageantry of "Battaglia's Out of the Mists of Memory." There are two suites (of which "Toy Roads" is one) that display the long held conviction that these players hold to the possibilities of extension within composition, and the wonderfully warm and deliberate sense of architectural and intervallic humor in the "Game #7" suite and in the finale, "The Goober." Battaglia is a fiery pianist whose use of arpeggiatic phrasing resembles Art Tatum at times and Oscar Peterson at others, and also has a profoundly melodic bent, in that he will stack his legato phrasing and maddeningly fast arpeggios on top of lush, multi-layered chords, and he does in his solo on the title track which closes disc one. In all, this trio with a rhythm section that wends and winds its way around Battaglia's striated harmonic sequences with aplomb, and the uncanny instinctual flair for the dramatic is the one to beat in Italian jazz, and this recording is perhaps their finest moment to date.

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