A strong case can be made that, south of Norway and Sweden, the best European jazz is coming out of Italy. Enrico Pieranunzi, Enrico Rava, Gianluca Petrella and 16-year-old prodigy Francesco Cafiso are just four evidentiary examples. Pianist Stefano Battaglia must now be added to the list.
It is remarkable how ECM keeps finding artists with distinctive voices who, once found, become natural extensions of the overarching ECM aesthetic. Raccolto is a double album featuring Battaglia’s two working trios. The first CD has Giovanni Maier on bass and Michele Rabbia on drums. Only the instrumentation is conventional. The title track builds from tentative chord overlays to ascending delicate spirals to towering architecture. “Triangolazioni” finds some of the most remarkable moments in recent recorded jazz. Furious arco bass and whining cymbals lead Battaglia to spray clusters of notes at the piano’s treble extreme, shards of light that reach the end of the keyboard and somehow keep climbing. Some pieces, like “Triosonic 1,” are barely populated moodscapes (arco bass sighs, percussive rustlings, stark piano gestures). Battaglia is a rare artist who plays with fearless freedom and meaningful precision.
The second CD, with the French violinist Dominique Pifarély replacing Maier, is even more demanding and diverse. In the last few years the violin has emerged from specialty instrument to primary jazz-solo vehicle, and Raccolto places Pifarély near the forefront of that movement. In these impulsive joint ventures with Battaglia, Pifarély’s is the most commanding voice: the quickest, the fiercest. Their two sounds contrast (Pifarély razor-edged, Battaglia plangent), but the violinist shares the pianist’s talent for crafting form on the fly. “Reminiscence Pour Violin et Piano” starts like a sword fight but comes together like a spontaneous ballet of melodicism.
Battaglia and Pifarély have both recorded extensively for small European labels, but for the jazz world at large, Raccolto will effectively present two stunning debuts.