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Stefano Battaglia Trio: In The Morning

Mark Sullivan By

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Italian pianist Stefano Battaglia and his trio present a program with a special thematic focus: all of the music was written by American composer Alec Wilder. Wilder is best known for his popular songs (recorded by Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee, the Mills Brothers and others), but he also composed in many other genres—including art songs, orchestral music, chamber music, film music, musicals, and opera. And he wrote the influential book American Popular Song: The Great Innovators (1900-1950) about the classic era of American songwriting.

While there have been jazz interpretations of Wilder's work—Battaglia mentions songs like "While We're Young," "Blackberry Winter," and "Moon and Sand" covered by Keith Jarrett in particular—Battaglia came into more direct contact through performance. He says that "after working on Wilder's chamber music I wanted to develop a deeper connection with his intriguing musical universe, and I've discovered an immense hidden treasure." We all benefit from that connection, because Battaglia's trio arrangements are simply stunning.

The title tune sets the tone at the opening: a stately theme which the trio elaborates on gradually, more like a classical theme and variations than the usual jazz improvisation on the chord changes. Battaglia began his career as a classical pianist, which may be at least a partial explanation for this approach. Regardless, it comes across as the perfect treatment of this music. "River Run" begins with a teasing opening before the theme is stated, then ends with a similar dissolution: a metaphoric rendering of the motion of a river.

"Moon And Sand" is the most often covered of the pop tunes in the program, so it would have logically had the most singing theme. But that honor goes to "When I am Dead My Dearest," whose memorable melody is stated by the piano and bass in tandem ("Where Do You Go?" comes in a close second). "The Lake Isle Of Innisfree" has the expected Celtic flavor. The longest track in the album, it has generous space for a bass solo from Salvatore Maiore, who makes the most of his spotlight in the midst of a generally group-oriented sound.

The closing "Chick Lorimer" is the most abstract tune in the collection, despite being a treatment of an art song setting the poetry of Carl Sandburg. The poem is "Gone," which begins:

"Everybody loved Chick Lorimer in our town.
Far off
Everybody loved her."

This is a trio with a deep rapport, and Wilder's music provides a wonderfully American "idiosyncratic mixture of styles" (in Battaglia's description) for them to interact in. There's something magical about this meeting of composer and performers, and it's a joy to hear.

Track Listing: In The Morning; River Run; Moon And Sand; When I Am Dead My Dearest; The Lake Isle Of Innisfree; Where Do You Go?; Chick Lorimer.

Personnel: Stefano Battaglia: piano; Salvatore Maiore: bass; Roberto Dani: drums.

Title: In The Morning | Year Released: 2015 | Record Label: ECM Records

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