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Stefano Battaglia: Songways

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The five albums that Stefano Battaglia has made for ECM since 2005 contain the strongest work released by an ECM pianist during that period. That claim will be controversial, given that pianists like Keith Jarrett, Stefano Bollani, Bobo Stenson and Craig Taborn record for the label. But Battaglia’s Raccolto (2006), Re: Pasolini (2007), Pastorale (2010) and The River of Anyder (2011) offer new concepts of lyricism, sometimes notated, more often discovered in spontaneous acts of the imagination never to be repeated. Written or improvised, music played by Battaglia sounds inevitable, like it has always been there.

The new Songways is one of the prettiest piano trio albums of the new millennium. It opens with pure aural seduction, in the hovering chords and luminous tremolos of “Euphonia Elegy.” Then Salvatore Maiore’s dark bass begins to loom like night and Battaglia’s gentle swells clarify into one ascending single-note figure that becomes more poignant with each repetition. It is as if sonorities of nature like the sea or wind have become a human cry. In jazz, “pretty” is often an adjective that damns with faint praise. Battaglia’s music is pretty but neither shallow nor soft.

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