Stefano Battaglia Trio: The River of Anyder (ECM 2151)

The River of Anyder

Stefano Battaglia Trio
The River of Anyder

Stefano Battaglia piano
Salvatore Maiore double-bass
Roberto Dani drums
Recorded November 2009, Auditorio Radiotelevisione svizzera, Lugano
Engineer: Stefano Amerio
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Stefano Battaglia always seems to have a root planted in mythical worlds. Where often he embraces those worlds as hidden inspirations, here the Italian pianist turns them inside out, yielding the journey that is The River of Anyder. Named for the river of Thomas More’s Utopia, the word “Anyder” is a pun meaning “waterless.” Like the music spun from its current, it embodies a contradiction between word and action. With this in mind, we might very well dismiss this album’s track titles altogether, for they mark not a mapping but a deconstruction of space by way of melody and affect.

Battaglia 1

We may indeed recognize “Minas Tirith” as the capital of Gondor in Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and imagine its fortress hewn in white rock. But then we might miss out on the music’s decidedly ashen palette, the wide-mouthed net of shadows cast by Battaglia’s ascending arpeggios in unity with bassist Salvatore Maiore, or the cymbals of drummer Roberto Dani rattling like coins in a giant’s pocket. We may hear the poetry of Rumi suffused in “Ararat Dance” and “Ararat Prayer,” risking too deep a reading by ignoring their already ornate surfaces, the standalone evocations of Maiore’s bassing, or the gilding of inaction that holds it all together.

We may get swept away by two tracks referencing the mythical island of Bensalem in Sir Francis Bacon’s New Atlantis, but fail to see that the trio’s interactions at moments leave the earth altogether. From the soft padding of his left hand to the tireless runs of his right, Battaglia navigates a profoundly varied topography with the freedom of one who walks without compass, who stops the wind and redirects it with every step taken. Whether contemplating the prayerful disposition of Hildegard von Bingen in the droning “Sham-bha-lah” or rowing the currents of the title track, Battaglia and his bandmates somehow slingshot around the dark side of the moon every time, placing them far from where they started.

Perhaps the only unity between spirit and production is “Anywhere Song.” This defining track concludes the set with a vision from Oglala Sioux Black Elk, who from atop the highest mountain sees all children of earth under one tree. It is, perhaps, the album’s deepest message: that in this tangle of keys, strings, and sticks, something so humble as a so-called jazz trio can look beyond its means and into the face of origins that compels those means to begin with. These are musicians who tell story and scripture alike.

The River of Anyder, then, is more than a catalogue of allusions. It is a pacifist’s statement, a bid for peace for a world in pieces.

(To hear samples of The River of Anyder, click here.)

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