Stefano Battaglia Trio
Stefano Battaglia piano
Salvator Maiore bass
Roberto Dani drums
Recorded April 2012, Auditorio Radiotelevisione svizzera, Lugano
Engineer: Stefano Amerio
Produced by Manfred Eicher
When Italo Calvino writes in Invisible Cities, “And when my spirit wants no stimulus or nourishment save music,” one might finish: that music comes from the pen of Stefano Battaglia. Following 2011’s The River of Anyder, it was difficult to imagine that the Italian pianist’s trio with bassist Salvator Maiore and drummer Roberto Dani could ever yield a more delicate creation, but with Songways the band has done just that. It is one of the most sensitive jazz experiences available on ECM, rivaling even Tord Gustavsen’s inward glances in scope. Much of that scope has to do with Battaglia, who imbues his compositions with a characteristic wealth of literary allusions.
The album’s title track, in fact, pays homage to the same Calvino fable, and like it tells stories from different perspectives, only to realize that the language and the environments it describes are one and the same. Groovy shadings make it no less contemplative, and Maiore’s archaeological bassing assures that every melodic artifact is polished and museum ready. Maiore, in fact, glows noticeably throughout the album’s dreamiest passages, as those taken through the capital of Jonathan Swift’s Lilliput in “Mildendo Wide Song” or the twisted streets of Alfred Kubin’s “Perla.” As much a listener as a speaker, his erosions are so subtle that before you know it a river flows before you.
Battaglia, for his part, stands out in the philosophical (“Armonia,” inspired by Charles Fourier) and the surreal (“Monte Analogo,” from the book by Renée Daumal). Weaving through frames and brushes, he mines every artistic impulse until minerals have been exhausted. With increasing fervor, he paves avenues of abstract impressions. Yet the most rewarding gift of Songways is Dani. Whether brushing through Homer’s Odyssey in “Ismaro” in the wake of Battaglia’s footfalls, evoking the clock of Edgar Allan Poe’s fictional town “Vondervotteimittis” (hats off to engineer Stefano Amerio here for his miking of Dani’s cymbals), or transitioning from hands to sticks in “Babel Hymn,” his feel for tuning is ever on point.
Not only is this a brilliant album and the trio’s most thoughtful work to date; it is an experience that is sure to grow with you. This is jazz as alchemy, turning not lead into gold but gold into song.
(To hear samples of Songways, click here.)