One Memorable Night
Battaglia’s one-night-only appearance proved beautifully exotic
On Sunday night, pianist Stefano Battaglia — a soft-spoken, musically-ambitious Milan-based performer and composer — led his band through some of the most delicate, textured, and beautiful sounds to grace this year’s Spoleto Festival USA events thus far.
Performing nearly an hour and a half of dynamic music inspired by, dedicated to, and reflecting the work of late Italian filmmaker and poet Pier Paolo Pasolini, Battaglia and his ensemble made their North American debut of works from their latest album, Re: Pasolini (on the Munich label ECM).
Battaglia, apologizing on the microphone for his “bad English” (it was actually very good), carefully explained the significance of Pasolini’s work to Italy and Europe and described working on these pieces (the album contains 24 “mini-movements” in all) over the last four years. “He was one of the important cultural figures in Italy … a complex figure for us in Europe,” he said. His time and efforts paid off with a mesmerizing and surprisingly graceful set.
The ensemble featured the same lineup from the new album — Michael Gassmann on trumpet, Mirco Mariottini on various clarinets, Aya Shimura on cello, Salvatore Maiore on double-bass, and Roberto Dani on the drums.
Many in the audience couldn’t take their eyes off Dani on the drum kit, which was set up at stage left facing the rest of the group. His collection of percussion instruments included a conventional five-piece drum set with a scattered battery of bells, small cymbals, steel pans, triangles, and small bongo-type drums. In some moments, his unusual sticking methods and brush work looked totally bizarre (I can’t remember ever seeing a drummer play an open snare drum like a hand drum while tapping on both the top AND bottom heads…).
Most of the gradual dynamic build-ups (and they were very, very gradual) seemed to follow rhythmic conversations (in 4/4 and 3/4 time signatures, mostly) between Battaglia’s crisp, reverberating piano work and Dani’s unusual drum patterns. The drummer rarely kept time in the traditional “jazz” sense, pushing and veering with a variety of flourishes, rolls, and random accents.
At times, the band barely made a sound, sometimes easing into the next “movement” at a glacial pace. One piece would delicately dissolve while another would slowly take shape. While some in the crowd seemed lost or disinterested, others were enraptured.
On one highlight, “Fevrar,” each musician focused on getting sounds out of all of their instruments — noisy, pretty, and otherwise. Another, “Cosa sono le nuvole,” was inspired by a collaboration between singer Dominico Modugno (of “Volare” fame) and Pasolini; it was, perhaps, the smoothest number of the night, led by a whispery trumpet melody and echo-y piano embellishment. Smooth, exotic, dense, and beautiful — a memorable concert, indeed.
STEFANO BATTAGLIA • Spoleto Festival USA • $25-$40 • (1 hour 15 min.) • May 27 at 9 p.m. • The Cistern, 66 George St. • 579-3100