Stefano Battaglia has a ten-plus year history on the ECM label where he has covered much ground in terms of formations, style and genre. The effort has not always paid off. His label debut Raccolto (2005) was a meandering affair that squandered the opportunities that come with two-discs of music. All of Battaglia's considerable talents were on display, they just didn't quite find a landing site. The pianist's follow up Re: Pasolini (2007) was the beginning of a developmental breakthrough; aspirational in its scope, it began to bring Battaglia's disparate interests into greater focus. With each additional ECM album Battaglia's work became more intriguing and, in particular, his trio formation with bassist Salvatore Maiore and drummer Roberto Dani. The traditional rhythm section allowed the non-traditional pianist to shine on The River of Anyder (2011), Songways (2012) and In the Morning (2015).
Pelagos returns to Battaglia's earlier ECM double-disc presentations and is the pianist's first solo recording. The music is all composed or improvised by Battaglia with the exception of a traditional Arab piece "Lamma Bada Yatathanna" which appears in two versions. The initial thirty minutes of the first disc encompass "Destino," the title track, "Migralia" and the first version of "Lamma Bada Yatathanna." These tracks alone are so staggeringly beautiful that they are worth the price of admission. Each reflects Battaglia's classical background, but they fall into no particular category. The mood is temporarily broken by the tonal experimentation of "Processional" and the prepared piano abstraction of "Dogon."
Disc 2 is a bit spottier in terms of consistency, opening with the minimalist "Lampedusa" and followed by "Hora Mundi," featuring a mash-up of torrential notes, rests and tranquil passages. Battaglia then returns to a more meditative mood with the second version of "Lamma Bada Yatathanna" and "Exilium" though the latter piece ends unexpectedlyand somewhat jarringlywith more prepared piano. After a bit more experimentation on "Heron," the second disc ends tranquilly with "Brenner Toccata."
Much of Pelagos is profoundly good and it is certainly the best work Battaglia has created to date. His fully improvised pieces have a composed feeling about them that is reminiscent of Keith Jarrett's best solo work. When he leaves those classically informed pieces for the outlands it can be frustrating, not because of the music, but its disconcerting placement. Some may wish that Battaglia had dedicated each disc by style as he had done on Raccolto. That said, Pelagos contains much beautiful and highly recommended music.
Track Listing: CD 1:
Destino; Pelagos; Migralia; Lamma Bada Yatathanna; Processional; Halap; Dogon; Life.
Lampedusa; Hora Mundi; Lamma Bada Yatathanna (var.); Exilium; Migration Mantra; Horgos e Roszke; Ufratu; Heron; Brenner Toccata.
Personnel: Stefano Battaglia: piano and prepared piano.
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