Italian pianist Stefano Battaglia decided to record his first album as a trio in 2009 when the coincidence of Lugano’s Auditorio Radiotelevisione Svizzera became available for this musical body and ECM’s founder Manfred Eicher decided to produce this record. Battaglia, who debuted on ECM with exhaustively complex play between smart jazz and freer classical tendencies on Raccolto later went into more experimental waters documented on his collaboration with Michele Rabbia on Pastorale: valley between brave avant-garde and bounding sacred music. Battaglia and Rabbia magicaly pieced the best bits of these two anti-poles together and set a high standard for subsequent Battaglia’s records.
The River of Anyder flows in different times in different worlds. Battaglia, double-bassist Salvatore Maiore and drummer Roberto Dani escape into ever-green worlds of never-land once described in Sir Thomas More’s Utopia, Tolkien’s self-invented Middle-earth or Sir Francis Bacon’s New Atlantis. Luckily, no worries are needed, Battaglia’s trio don’t swim in the waters of new-age. These reference points are more an ideologic framework which defines their approach and the overall atmosphere which ranges from sacred, noble calm to Eastern-spice movement. Both of these directions are complementary, rather than contrasting and set a warm tranquility of olde days so reminiscent of many pseudo-historic and silly-fantasy movies with surprisingly fantastic soundtracks.
One of the strongest pieces on The River of Anyder is free-flowing Ararat Dance, heavily influenced by Rumi, 13th-century Persian poet. Ararat Dance is self-fulfilling: the main motive is as repetitive and mixolydic as you might expect from Middle-east inspired melody. Battaglia’s musings around this seduction are effective: he presents best of his experience with night-bar, but also grand stage jazz, he modulates the rhythms and structures, augments the melody and varies the harmonies to present the ecstatic essence of dance. These are not just movements of fingers or hips; this is emotional catharsis of a mystic in a trance. Battaglia’s free-flowing improvisations are as affecting as Dani’s flamboyant percussion work and Maiore’s bubbling murmur of bass. The River of Anyder might not be the most impressive jazz record of 2011, but its particular fragments, such as this enlightening trip to mystic Middle-East, are satisfyingly blissful.