CD REVIEW :Stefano Battaglia Trio - In The Morning – Music of Alec Wilder

Stefano Battaglia Trio - In The Morning – Music of Alec Wilder
(ECM 4738673. CD review by Mike Collins)

Italian pianist Stefano Battaglia has delved into the catalogue of American composer Alec Wilder for the source of this atmospheric and meditative recording, his sixth release for ECM and third as a trio featuring the bass of Salvatore Maiore and drums of Roberto Dani.

Wilder’s songs are familiar and loved by jazz folk having been recorded by artists as diverse as Peggy Lee, Frank Sinatra and Keith Jarrett. His music covered a huge range however, from chamber music and opera to popular songs and musicals. Battaglia himself forged a career as classical pianist before turning to improvised music and jazz and it’s mainly songs of Wilder’s, written as ‘Art Songs’ for voice and piano, that the trio explored in the performance at Torino Jazz Festival from which these tracks are drawn.

In the hands of this trio, alert to every nod, rustle, hesitation and shimmer conjured by one of the partners, each piece evolves and casts a spell. In the Morning’s almost naïve pastoral theme dissolves into a stately vamp, Battaglia decorating it with dance-like figures and turns. River Run launches with an understated three-way percussive work-out, the melody this time giving way to a more impressionistic group improvisation slowly mutating, but retaining a rhythmic and melodic logic. The more definite harmonic movement of Moon and Sand is like a release of tension and the trio let that and repetition of sections of the haunting tune do its work, little eddies of improvisation from Battaglia embellishing the trance like cycling. It’s a breathless, enchanting moment. When I’m Dead Dearest and The Lake Isle of Innisfree are settings of poems by Christina Rossetti and W.B. Yeats respectively and the trio continue the mix of expressively stated and developed melody whether from piano or bass, mesmerising vamps and looser, evolving textures. The final piece Chick Lorimer ends with a more urgent burst of momentum and clatter.

This focussed and intense set bears repeated listens. Interplay and sympathy between the three musicians sustain the tension and momentum. This music doesn’t rush, but its never becalmed and there are many moments of lustrous beauty.

Mike Collins is a pianist and writer based in Bath, who runs the jazzyblogman site. Twitter @jazzyblogman

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