The Anyder River is the largest river in Sir Thomas More’s Utopia, and provides pure water for the island’s inhabitants. It also provides an evocative title for Italian pianist Stefano Battaglia’s latest collection of music, as the compositions themselves have a purity all their own. As Battaglia states, “I set myself the task of writing songs and dances uninfluenced by the sophistication of contemporary musical languages, striving to shape pieces that might have been played on archaic instruments a thousand years ago. I think of it as a kind of music before the idioms.”
Along with Salvatore Majore (double-bass) and Roberto Dani (drums), Battaglia has indeed reached into a mythical past for the ten compositions that make up The River of Anyder. There is a timelessness to a piece such as “Arayat Dance” that is undeniable. In the opening segment, Majore’s bass is played to sound as exotic as a sitar, while Battaglia and Dani hang back. Later Stefano’s piano comes in to take full command of the song, with Roberto’s crashing cymbals in seeming full acquiescence.
The titles come from mythical places such as Tolkien’s Minas Tirith, Sir Francis Drake’s Bensalem, and legendary lands such as Ararat. Each piece evokes a particular sound, very different from the other. Battaglia seems to have a wealth of textures at his disposal, which serves him well. There are far too many musicians who have only one way of playing. This is not to condemn anyone’s “signature” style; it is just to say that on The River of Anyder, Battaglia manages to continuously find different inspirations which render the various titles a special significance. The names serve a deeper purpose than as simply randomly chosen imagery.
The prevailing mode of the River of Anyder is that of a jazz trio, although that is a very trite description. Like most of what ECM releases, there is so much more going on in the music than these simple descriptive terms are ever able to convey. The River of Anyder is as much a spiritual journey as it is a CD of great music. Battaglia underscores this in the included booklet by presenting excerpts from such beautiful minds as Rumi, Rimbaud, Hildegard con Bingen and the Black Elk of the Oglala Sioux. We are offered an eclectic mix of philosophy and literature, which perfectly mirrors the blend of musical styles that fill the record.
On a quiet autumn day like today, there is a magic to this music, and to the words that accompany it as well. If the River of Anyder provided pure water for the Utopians, Battaglia’s River of Anyder provides a purity of sound for the rest of us.