Stefano Battaglia Trio: In The Morning (ECM 2429)

In The Morning

Stefano Battaglia Trio
In The Morning – Music of Alec Wilder

Stefano Battaglia piano
Salvatore Maiore double bass
Robert Dani drums
Recorded live April 28, 2014 at Teatro Vittoria, Torino
Engineer: Stefano Amerio
Concert produced by Torino Jazz Festival
Artistic director: Stefano Zenni
Album produced by Manfred Eicher
U.S. release date: August 28, 2015

Pianist Stefano Battaglia and his trio with bassist Salvatore Maiore and drummer Roberto Dani have redefined the capabilities of the jazz trio by going inward. Each of these musicians is capable of engrossing power, but expresses that power by increasingly vulnerable means. This is also the trio’s strength: in finding the gentlest persuasion into a tune, effects thereof linger as unbreakable memories.

Battaglia’s has always been a thematic trio. Having oared mythical waters in The River of Anyder and the follow-up Songways, they now take on the music of American popular songwriter Alec Wilder (1907-1980) in a set of seven tunes arranged by the bandleader. In this album’s press release, Battaglia recalls his early encounters with Wilder by way of Keith Jarrett, who had recorded such songs as “While We’re young” and “Moon And Sand” with his trio. One listen to the Battaglia’s trio take on the latter tune, and you’ll realize that, while they might not have the depth of output of Jarrett’s, there’s no denying their contributions will be deemed every bit as significant when ECM’s entire history is one day taken into account. Levels of phrasing, immediate structure, and narrative in this 2014 live recording are no less indicative of genius.

Battaglia Trio
(Photo credit: Caterina di Perri)

Wilder was proficient across genres, composing not only popular but also art songs, opera, musicals, film scores, and chamber music. If any claim to eclecticism can be read into his oeuvre, it will also be found in Battaglia’s approach to interpretation. His enchantment translates into an enchantment all its own. Such is obvious in the title track alone, which links the first in the concert’s chain of exquisite realizations. With its arid and rolling heartbeat, this morning song proceeds evenly for the most part, though half-step dissonances add a feeling of recoil and the sweet pain of trekking through uncharted improvisation. This tune also shows the trio at its most egalitarian. Even the bass solo seems to arise from among like elements in a slowly churning pool of energies—a matter of focus over form.

“River Run” opens with bass harmonics, shallow percussion, and dampened piano, all working a spidery craft into focus until botanical artistries emerge. Battaglia opens the keyboard like a book whose pages are thumb-worn by former journeys yet whose ink still glistens with the musings of this one. And while each album has shown the evolution of the trio as a unit, Dani in particular has grown into a master colorist. The way he wanders while sharing the spirit of Battaglia and Maiore’s interlock is astonishing here, perhaps more the result of committing to the moment than of arbitrary forethought.

At just over four minutes, “When I Am Dead My Dearest” occupies the least space of the set list, but with no loss of scope. Of all the tracks it is the most songlike, an etude of quality over quantity. From the shortest the trio moves to the longest. “The Lake Isle Of Innisfree” is an album unto itself, a dramatic piece that moves from abstraction to photorealism over the course of 16 minutes. The center cushions a bass monologue in the attention of an audience so rapt it hardly seems to be there. Battaglia’s re-entry is as drum-like as Dani’s is pianistic as both work these waters into a foam, exhaled along the shoreline through malleted cymbals.

“Where Do You Go?” is another beauty, swimming with ideas beneath its combination skin. Battaglia gives fullness to every utterance and allows the trio to land as surely as it takes off. Last is “Chick Lorimer,” which rearranges Wilder’s setting of Carl Sandburg into a wordless but no-less-poetic expression of freer textures. The trio closes the door with magic, leaving us spellbound for having partaken of its affinity.

(To hear samples of In The Morning, please click here.)

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