Stephan Battaglia/ Michele Rabbia – Pastorale – ECM

by | Mar 22, 2010 | Jazz CD Reviews | 0 comments

 Stephan Battaglia/ Michele Rabbia – Pastorale – ECM 2120, 61:22 [3/30/10] ****:

(Stephan Battaglia, piano, prepared piano; Michele Rabbia, percussion, electronics)

Pastorale, the latest release by pianist Stephan Battaglia and percussionist Michele Rabbia on ECM, is an ambitious album by two artists who enjoy pushing themselves and jazz in interesting directions. Both artists have a classical music background, and Battaglia a reputation for high-concept works, including his 2007 release Re:Pasolini, a musical exploration of the work of director Pier Paolo Pasolini. Parts of Pastorale bear some similarity to the darker second disc of Re:Pasolini, and his continued collaboration with Rabbia only strengthens this more ominous mood.

Battaglia begins the first track of the album, Antifona libera (a Enzo Bianchi), with  chiming chords. Rabbia colors this sound by coming in at the end of Battaglia’s phrases with slightly dissonant high-pitched tones. Rabbia’s sound appears to be coming from an electronic device or some sort of timpani, but the feel is haunting regardless of its source. Battaglia’s playing is simple and straightforward, which increases the evocative power of Rabbia’s unearthly almost wailing refrains.

On the second track, Metaphysical Consolations, Rabbia opens the tune with warbling synthesizer chords playing under more high-pitched, eerie tones. Battaglia’s piano is sparse, occasionally throwing in a brief flurry of notes or a chord which slice into the reverberating sounds Rabbia creates, abruptly shifting the atonal melody. This track sound like an improvisation, and the denseness and variety of feeling created by such minimal instrumentation is all the more impressive for not having been pre-planned.

For Monasterium, Rabbia creates an astonishing sound with his percussion, which sounds like horseshoes clopping on concrete underwater. Battaglia’s phrasing on this tune is masterful. He assaults the left speaker with massive, ominous deep chords, and then allows tense sparse light notes to tinker in the right. The sense of fear, of waiting for an unknown threat is infectious and Rabbia’s percussion only adds to the mood.

A lighter mood permeates Oracle. Rabbia begins it with new-age style synth tones and chimes, while Battaglia’s playing is the most energetic and playful so far on the album. His piano solo builds and builds while Rabbia creates a rattling percussion. Battaglia rushes every phrase to the point that notes blur into each other. No melodic line is given enough time to be fully articulated before Battaglia has moved on to the next.

Battaglia’s piano tone on Kursk Requiem sounds modified, and to tremendous effect. His low notes reverberate with an unnatural shaking which will rattle the listener’s speakers. Rabbia periodically comes in with a harmonic synth tone which comes in over the rest of the track, but for the most part he plays dissonant tones that sound like a large pipe organ. Battaglia’ rhythm consists of brief, staccato lines from the deep end of his instrument coupled with high notes spattered about almost a-rhythmically.

Cantar del alma is surprisingly traditional. Battaglia plays with a laid-back jazz ballad style, and Rabbia’s quiet brush playing on cymbals is also more standard. Battaglia’s minimal style works just as well in a more traditional jazz recording as it does on more avantgarde tracks. His unhurried playing accentuates the lyrical style he can easily achieve when he desires it.

The title track, Pastorale,  starts with a children’s song-esque melody played by Battaglia. The long pauses between phrases are filled with deep hollow tones like church bells created by Rabbia. Around the minute and a half mark Rabbia comes in with sporadic percussion. Battaglia continues on his merry way with his light-hearted melody, sweetly exploring its different variations as if Rabbia weren’t even there. The effect is idyllic, with the simple beauty of the piano strengthened by its contrast with the percussion.

Tanztheater (in memory of Pina Bausch) may be the best track on the album. Battaglia begins with a  busy, fast-paced, circular melody which climbs up the scales until about the minute mark when it breaks down, only to begin again more intensely on the lower-end of the piano. Two minutes in the quick pace of the song abruptly stops, and Rabbia’s chimes slowly play out brief melodies while Battaglia slams on moody deep chords. The contrasts of this track are sharp and dramatic, and when the theme melody is reiterated later in the song all of the clashing elements are brought together into a mind-blowing finale.

Although not necessarily an easily accessible album, Pastorale is sure to have a large groups of fans. Those who’ve long appreciated Battaglia’s work won’t be disappointed, and anyone interested in some of the most interesting directions either classical or jazz music is going in should count this album as a must-have.

TrackList: Antifona libera (a Enzo Bianchi), Metaphysical Consolations, Monasterium, Oracle, Kursk Requiem, Cantar del alma, Spirits of Myths, Pastorale, Sundance in Balkh, Tanztheater (in memory of Pina Bausch), Vessel of Magic

– Ethan Krow



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