Stefano Battaglia (1965 , Milan) is an Italian classical and jazz pianist.
He has played extensively on the international circuit, performing as a soloist with the European Youth Orchestra in Barcelona (1981), and winning the “J.S. Bach Festival” award in Düsseldorf as the best new pianist of the year (1986) and the Brussels National Radio Award as the best young European pianist (1997). He has taught at major Italian jazz seminars such as the “Siena Jazz” summer program. Battaglia is a founder of the jazz group Triplicity and Theatrum as part of the Permanent Workshop for Musical Research in Siena. He has recorded more than 60 CDs and is currently working on an anthology of recordings called The Book of Jazz.
In some of Stefano Battaglia’s previous albums he has paid tribute to other artists and developed musical metaphors for imaginary concepts.
On his ECM debut, Raccolto in 2003, 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. 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.
For the follow-up, Re: Pasolini, Battaglia leaves behind Raccalto‘s freely improvised context for more structured territory. There’s also an overriding conceptual link that goes beyond mere stylistic approach. The multidisciplinary Pier Paolo Pasolini (1922-1975) was a distinguished writer, film director, painter and political figure. Battaglia honors Pasolini’s multiplicity of interests through a series of compositions covering a wide range of emotional resonances, from stark beauty to jagged and, sometimes, chaotic disturbance.
At its heart is a jazz trio, around which trumpet and cello spin their filaments—interpreters between worlds. As the first of many nods to the silver screen, it sets in motion Battaglia’s greatest strength: namely, his instinct for development. Like a film itself, the program has a beginning, middle, and end, and opens on this facial close-up with all the possibility in the world at its feet.
His next pair of recordings, The River of Anyder (2009) and Songways (2012) were predominantly named after mythical locations. The pure water of the Anyder River flowered through Sir Thomas Moore’s Utopia. Battaglia celebrates it and other mythical and legendary locations in a trio recording of new compositions which spurn self-conscious modernity:
“I pushed myself to write songs and dances uninfluenced by the sophistication of contemporary musical languages, striving to shape pieces that might have been played on archaic instruments a thousand years ago.”
Songways has Battaglia and his trio further developing directions established on The River of Anyder with a new selection of chants, hymns and dances, all written by Battaglia and inspired by descriptions of visionary places from art and literature – from Alfred Kubin, Jonathan Swift or Charles Fourier to Italo Calvino.
“Songways” finds “a new harmonic balance between archaic modal pre-tonal chant and dances, pure tonal songs and hymns and abstract texture,” Battgalia says, “thus documenting the natural development of the Trio life, with a larger space for action from the drums”.
On his sixth album for ECM, In The Morning, the Italian pianist and his trio reflect on the work of American composer Alec Wilder.
Alec Wilder (1907-1980) was a composer equally at home in the worlds of stage, film, opera/classical and popular song. Because he spread himself out to such a degree, he is not often celebrated to the extent of many of his contemporaries who focused exclusively on contributing to what is now known as the Great American Songbook. Still, his work has been interpreted by artists as diverse as Dave Liebman (who devoted an entire album to Wilder), Miles Davis, Marvin Gaye and, especially, Frank Sinatra, who called Wilder a close friend and a favorite composer.
Wilder is also known for writing the standard reference American Popular Song: The Great Innovators, 1900-1950, in which he devotes a chapter each to the great songwriters of the 1900-1950s, e.g. Gershwin, Porter, Berlin, as well as, the greatest songs and specific styles.
In the press release for In The Morning Battaglia recalls his early encounters with Wilder.
“I first came into a more direct contact with Alec Wilder’s music in the early 90s, when I was performing his Sonata for Oboe and Piano and his Sonata for Horn and Piano”, Battaglia remembers. I had already known some of his popular songs like “While We’re Young”, “Blackberry Winter” and “Moon and Sand” through the intense versions Keith Jarrett has recorded.
However, he also says that he wanted to develop a deeper connection with his intriguing musical universe.
We all benefit from that connection, because Battaglia’s trio arrangements are simply stunning. Battaglio along with Salvatore Maiore on bass and Roberto Dani playing drums, take their time to examine the music so comprehensively is a testament to Wilder’s melodic gift.