Stefano Battaglia: Raccolto (ECM 1933/34)


Stefano Battaglia

Stefano Battaglia piano
Giovanni Maier double bass
Michele Rabbia percussion
Dominique Pifarély violin
Recorded September/December 2003, Artesuono Recording Studio, Udine
Engineer: Stefano Amerio
Album produced by ECM

Raccolto is one of ECM’s most fascinating productions, though for some listeners surely also one of its most challenging. Significant enough for welcoming Italian pianist Stefano Battaglia to the label, it may be equally so for introducing percussionist Michele Rabbia, whose contributions are nothing short of revelatory throughout this double-disc effort. Battaglia and Rabbia are the common links to the album’s back-to-back trios, the first with bassist Giovanni Maier (better known as Triosonic) and the second with violinist Dominique Pifarély (a.k.a. Atem).

The standard jazz trio here is anything but in execution, as evidenced by the title track (meaning “harvest”), which opens the first session with Battaglia’s careful footsteps, joined by others in a dimly lit hall of mirrors. Striking here, aside from the rhythm section’s awakenings, are the Bach-like changes at play. It is as if the ensuing theatre of abstractions issues from the heart of history. With names like “All is language” and “In front of the fourth door,” it’s easy to get lost in each track’s spell, under which certainties become uncertainties and uncertainties become mantras. Motives seek rupture but find only a scrim of caution between them and full-on embodiment. And so, they dream of that embodiment instead, and this is the sound to which we are made privy, especially in the brief, and sometimes astonishing, culminations scattered throughout. Rhythms are thus implied more than they are directed, caught in virtuosic blips from the man at the keys or from Rabbia’s dustings of shrapnel and time. In these examples, as in “Our circular song,” the percussionist reveals worlds unto himself.

Not to be left behind, Maier grabs a lion’s share of spotlight in “L’osservanza,” which concludes the set in a vehicle of tender, lyric flashes. It’s a billowing weave that cups wind as a flower would sunlight. The bassist’s soloing in “Triangolazioni” adds depth to whispers and occupies a poetic center. He further inspires Battaglia to crystalline segues of call and response. “Coro,” then, can be nothing but a maze. Rabbia adds to it insect wings, hushes of children and slumber, of hiding and protection, so that Battaglia’s chording can find consummation only within. Hence, too, the two tracks marked “Triosonic,” in which the piano gives up its ghosts so that others might live.

Disc 2 swaps Maier for Pifarély for a dozen classically inflected improvisations built around abstract themes. As the go-to violinist of Louis Sclavis, Pifarély should surprise no one familiar with the violinist’s selective chamber appearances, each a window into another. His slippery playing recalls Luciano Berio’s Voci, especially in the folkish lilt of “Lys” and in the two “Cantos.” The latter feature prepared piano for a glassine effect, while Rabbia dips into more metallic streams of consciousness. And then, there is the obvious homage, “Recitativo in memoria di Luciano Berio,” which finds the trio mining the Italian landscape for ideas.

Surrounding moods range from frenetic to elegiac, achieving soul-digging brilliance in “Riconoscenza,” “Velario de marzo,” and “Pourquoi?” The last is tempered by Pifarély’s gravelly soothsaying in a showing of perfect restraint. Through various geometric configurations, the three musicians follow string paths as blood navigates veins until they reach the resonant frequency of “…Dulci declinant lumina somno…” It is the unforeseen view underlying everything, a vista within a vista, fragile as a moth’s wing.

It’s only appropriate that Battaglia should have found a home at ECM. The pianist cites Paul Bley’s Open, To Love and Keith Jarrett’s Facing You as defining encounters that pushed his classical rigor into dovetailed paths of improvisatory possibility. His Raccolto is one stubborn staircase, indeed, but well worth the climb. A debut to remember.

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