Stefano Battaglia Trio: The River of Anyder

Stefano Battaglia is the least famous of Italy’s major jazz piano players. He is more esoteric and more obviously grounded in European classical music than Stefano Bollani, Enrico Pieranunzi and Danilo Rea. But his chops and his poetic imagination place him in their company.

The first two pieces here display Battaglia’s deep intuition for drama and atmosphere. “Minas Tirith” and the title track are still and rapt and so slow they seem to circle on themselves. But Battaglia can also hit hypnotic prancing grooves, as on “Ararat/Dance” and “Sham-bha-lah.” His blend of freedom and elegance is unique. He trusts his creative impulses and might flash to a new idea and veer off course in a heartbeat. All velocities and amplitudes are subject to sudden change, yet nothing feels random.

He began his career as a classical pianist, and perhaps all the baroque music he played in his youth explains the instinct for structure that underlies his improvised forays. Even his most abstract pieces have sonatas submerged in them. Sometimes, as on the two-minute “Nowhere Song” and the one-minute “Anywhere Song,” he is content to postulate a minimal crystalline melodic figure and let it resonate in space. More often, as on the 12-minute “Bensalem” and the 15-minute “Sham-bha-lah,” the opening thematic assumptions are expanded into vast variations.

Bassist Salvatore Maiore and drummer Roberto Dani are sensitive collaborators. When the music quiets and hovers, they keep it intense with subtle energy and elaborate it with meaningful color and detail. They also anticipate Battaglia’s trajectories and power him forward when the moment arrives.