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Duets for piano and percussion have been part of Stefano Battaglia’s work since the early 1990s, when he collaborated with both Tony Oxley and Pierre Favre. Since 2000, countryman Michele Rabbia has been Battaglia’s principal percussionist, appearing on both of his previous ECM releases as an ensemble member and fellow improviser. One track on “Re: Pasolini” in fact - “Mimesis, divina mimesis” – was a duet for Battaglia and Rabbia, and might be viewed in retrospect as a kind of ‘trailer’ for the present project.

When they began their live duo work the primary method employed was “tabula rasa” improvisation, open free playing, or ‘letting sounds be sounds’ as John Cage used to say. Over time other approaches have been added. In guided improvisations, instrumental roles are frequently overturned, as lyrical percussion shades into electronics and texture turns to melody. Stefano Battaglia reminds us that the piano is also a percussion instrument and Michele Rabbia is sensitive to all the tonal implications of drums and cymbals.

“Tanztheater” is a suite of dances improvised in memory of choreographer Pina Bausch consisting of in Battaglia’s words, “a gigue in 3/8, a ritual dance, a gavotte and finally a long hypnotic section of “primitive” groove. It strives to be a homage to Bausch’s extraordinarily genuine expressionism and to her immortal spirit.”

A third development in Battaglia/Rabbia improvising is the incorporation of material derived from folk roots, particularly from the Mediterranean and Arab-Andalusian regions, referenced here on “Cantar del ama” and “Sundance in Balkh”.

There are also compositions with prearranged material. “Antifona” is a musical prayer, in the format of the free antiphons of antiquity. And title track Pastorale incorporates a pretty, rustic melody set, as Battagloa says “in a natural landscape”.

On the other hand, the soundscapes of “Monasterium”, “Oracolo”, “Kursk Requiem” and “Spirits of Myths” are creatively unnatural. Here the duo plays with the sounding space, expanding and contracting it with electronics. Rabbia also manipulates and transforms the sounds of the instruments: the net effect however is subtle, poetic, with transitions between acoustic and electro-acoustic modes delicately negotiated.

Stefano Battaglia is an important ‘recent arrivals’ at ECM, and his music has been featured at diverse ECM festival events in Athens, Frankfurt, Schloß Elmau, and elsewhere. The range of his music is wide and it has embraced several streams of expression concurrently, almost from the beginning of his career. Born 1961 in Milan, Battaglia won prizes as a classical soloist before turning his attention to jazz, inspired initially by recordings of Paul Bley and Keith Jarrett. From the late 1980s he led a series of groups of his own and issued many critically acclaimed albums on Italian labels. See discography at Battaglia has been an ECM recording artist since 2003, discs for the label including the double-albums “Raccolto” (ECM 1993/4) and “Re-Pasolini” (ECM 1998/9). Further CDs are in preparation, amongst them a recently-recorded trio album with Roberto Dani and Salvatore Maiore.

Michele Rabbia was born in Turin in 1965 and began playing percussion at the age of 15, studying classical percussion with Giorgio Artoni at Savigliano music academy, and drums with Enrico Lucchini. In 1986 he moved to the US where took classes with Alan Dawson and Joe Hunt, returning to Italy in the early 1990s. Since then he has collaborated with numerous musicians, the long list including Enrico Rava, Charlie Mariano, Antolello Sallis, Doninique Pifarély, Rita Marcotuli, the Italian Instabile Orchestar, Sainkho Namchylak, Paul McCandless and many others. His broad artistic interests have also led to work with dancers and choreographers, including Teri Wikel, Andrew Harwood, Ray Chung, Khosro Adibi, and Rossella Fiumi. Rabbia has contributed also to film soundtracks and music for theatre.

A special launch concert for “Pastorale” takes place in Rome, at the Auditorium Parco della Musica (Teatro Studio), on January 29, 2010.