STEFANO BATTAGLIA THEATRUM

Rito Stagionale
Splasc (H) Records CDH 903.2

One of Italy's young lions at 35 years old, pianist Battaglia has proven himself both more versatile and experimental than many of his North American counterparts.

Interacting with such Euroimprov father figures as drummers Pierre Favre and Tony Oxley during the course of his extensive recording career, he has also put together small groups that often reflect his classical training as well as his jazz roots.

If that wasn't enough, this excellent CD, featuring Theatrum — a large experimental ensemble, organized under the auspices of the Sienna Jazz Festival — shows that his arranging and composing skills are maturing at a corresponding pace with his playing.

Divided into three major compositions, RITO shows off separate, but related views of the ensemble. Leisurely and atmospheric, "Liturgia Di Cristallo" is built out of blocks of nearly ambient sound, with the light tinkling of temple bells, cymbals and tubular bells plus bass clarinet runs buffering Espinoza's yearning, legato tenor saxophone solo. The overall effect is as if Gil Evans had constructed a showcase for the single note piano stylings of AMM's John Tilbury. But here Battaglia essays the keyboard part.

Midway between fusion and world music, the title tune is less memorable. A simple, repetitive melody driven by Palermini and Malvisi's soprano saxes, Mariottini's piccolo clarinet and Corsi's delicate, Third World percussion, it seems more like an entr'acte than a full-blown composition, especially when Guerrini's piping, ethnic flutes come to the fore.

Much more impressive is "In Memoriam", which could almost be described as Theatrum's "Ascension". At 25 minutes plus, it uses the massed force available from seven horns, two basses and two drummers. Alternately cacophonous and lyrical, you can feel the intensity mounting in stair step increments as the saxophones spew out notes in near unison, but far enough apart to add extra energy. While none of the respectful tenor solos ever reach the heights of lung bursting intensity that John Coltrane was capable of, the overall effect proves that jazz's future is secure in Southern Europe.

Since this session was recorded more than three years ago, its release should create a heightened expectation of what an even more seasoned Theatrum is up to now. Its work is going to have to work on an even higher plane to top this.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Liturgia Di Cristallo 2. OD (Rito Stagionale) 3. In Memoriam

Personnel: Michael Gassmann (trumpet); Stefano Franceschini, Daniele Malvisi (soprano and tenor saxophones); Dimitri Grechi Espinoza (tenor saxophone); Mirko Guerrini (soprano and tenor saxophones, Bolivian and Pakistani flutes); Mirco Mariottini (bass and piccolo clarinets); Filberto Palermini (soprano saxophone); Stefano Battaglia (piano, percussion); Milko Ambrogini, Nico Pellegrini, Gianluca Renzi (basses); Paolo Corsi, Riccardo Ienna, Alessio Riccio (drums, percussion)