Stefano Battaglia: Pelagos (ECM 2570/71)

Pelagos

Stefano Battaglia
Pelagos

Stefano Battaglia piano, prepared piano
Recorded May 2016 at Fazioli Concert Hall, Sacile (Italy)
Engineer: Stefano Amerio
Produced by Manfred Eicher
Release date: September 15, 2017

No one can comfort me in my misery
In my lamenting and suffering for love
But for the one in the beautiful mirage…

Following a string of concept albums—including the cinematically inflected Re: Pasolini—and endeavors with his trio, pianist Stefano Battaglia returns to ECM with a two-disc solo effort of mostly spontaneous music. Playing piano and prepared piano—and sometimes both—he weaves together a program from behind closed doors and live on stage, and by its sequence tells the story of a shoreline thirsty for the tide.

The piano at his fingertips is a printing press, every letter and ornament moved carefully into place before transferring messages to the pages of our inner ear. From the sweeping grandeur of “Migralia” to the brittle unspooling of “Brenner Toccata,” he understands that the sea is a force of forces, each drop with the potential to swallow vessels whole. He dots the map between them with exes and lines, charting terrain both vertical (“Horgos e Roszke”) and horizontal (“Life”). Like the sustains breathing throughout “Lampedusa,” his notes resonate as gifts for the broken.

Preparation of a piano is often seen as a way of expanding its vocabulary. Battaglia, however, treats it like an endoscopic camera into the instrument’s very heart. Taken as a measurement of its pulse, the gong-like meditation of “Processional” and rhythmic intensity of the brief “Dogon” indicate a healthy organism whose dreams are as melodic as they are ineffable. “Destino” is, perhaps, the rawest of these improvisations. It feels like déjà vu, folding time into a mysterious origami.

The title track is one of five composed pieces in the set. Among them, its archaeology of recall is matched only by the urgency of “Migration Mantra,” a wave of untold stories given room to breathe. In light of which the Arabic traditional “Lamma Bada Yatathanna” glows with all the beauty of life in its hands. A necessary touch of wordlessness for a world that can’t keep its mouth shut.

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