In some ways, Songways is a logical extension of the Stefano Battaglia Trio's immediate predecessor, 2011's River of Anyder. It is only the second date by this fine trio, whose other members are bassist Salvatore Mairoe and drummer Roberto Dani. On River of Anyder, the group established a rich harmonic language that balanced lyric composition with ranging improvisation. If anything, that balance is retained here, but also encompasses a larger harmonic world. Once more recorded at the warm, natural-sounding Auditorio Radiotelevisione Svizzera in Lugano, Battaglia again sought literary references to open up his music. The fictional created a musical geography in Battaglia's imagination to compose terrains for the trio to explore. On Songways, Battaglia's tunes free up Dani -- almost entirely -- from the confines of the timekeeping. Here he functions primarily as a deft texturalist and imaginative colorist -- he only seemingly keeps time on a couple of cuts. Check the way his exquisite cymbal work erases margins between space, color, and melody in opener "Euphonia Elegy." As Battaglia's rustling arpeggios offer a direction, Mairoe picks it up and develops a melody around which the pianist responds and then travels. Dani's cymbals accent, highlight, whisper, rumble, and echo throughout, keeping the songlike nature of the lyricism from ever becoming fixed. Dani does keep time on "Ismaro," titled for the city Odysseus attacked in Homer's poem. Its near-folk melody is stated by the pianist with the bassist helping to create a kind of bridge, but that's a feint; it's only the marker for the improvisation to begin. The title track nods to Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities, but it is also influenced by that dialogic narrative that exists in the geographies between and shared by Battaglia's new forms and modern jazz. The pianist uses phrases from hymnody and juxtaposes them against post-bop amid an elegant flurry of arpeggios as Mairoe provides pulse and lyric counterpoint. "Vondervotteimittis," titled for the clock-obsessed town in Edgar Allan Poe's The Devil in the Belfry, and "Monte Analogo" named for Ren‚ Daumal's novel, are the two pieces here in which Battaglia's piano provides a conscious dissonance as a melodic device. Dani's bells, cymbals, and rumbling tom-toms highlight the tension and drama, but are countered by the more gently inquisitive investigations from Mairoe. On "Babel Hymn," Dani's tom-toms offer movement and drama. The modal inquiry by Battaglia is underscored by an insistent yet unobtrusive lyric repetition from Mairoe, who ever so slowly opens up the frame for the tune to move further afield. Songways is European jazz rooted deep in the Italian tradition: it wears both its classicism and post-vanguard lyricism plainly, in the process creating a deft, instinctive, and highly expressionistic music. ~ Thom Jurek
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