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Stefano Battaglia : Re: Pasolini

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In the accompanying notes to Re: Pasolini, pianist Stefano Battaglia clarifies his ingenious musical interpretations of the works of Italian film auteur, poet and political gadfly Pier Paolo Pasolini with eloquence and obvious enthusiasm. But as in all programmatic music, the composer’s own finished project must stand on its own apart from the reflected glory of its inspiration.

Each of the album’s two discs sports its own personality and distinct instrumentation. Disc one finds Battaglia merging, in various configurations, with a small group. His quietly stated themes-an apt designation for strikingly melodic pieces that often seem only to miss film credit sequences to accompany-find room for improvisation, but of a conspicuously integrated nature. Strong statements from trumpeter Michael Gassmann and bassist Salvatore Maiore, not to mention the leader’s own ringing piano work, emerge organically from Battaglia’s reflective melodies yet stay firmly grounded within his refined scores.

Disc two leaves the melodic ease and ensemble weave behind. Here, Battaglia conceives pieces-the majority compact duets between piano and strings-that owe more to 20th-century classical music than to conventional jazz forms. The second disc’s mood remains as stringently introspective as the previous disc was meditatively warm. Yet Battaglia’s dramatic flair imbues each of these austere performances with a vitality that keeps you attentive even as it casts a chill. His pianistic prowess announces itself by way of his exceptional responsiveness to his partners rather than any cascading virtuosity.

Re: Pasolini is a triumph for Battaglia, the pianist, composer and arranger; how successfully it reflects Pasolini’s complex sensibilities, though, ultimately lies between the listener and Netflix.