Stefano Travaglini came to attention of many in 2017 with his extraordinarily wide-ranging solo album Ellipse (Notami Jazz, 2017), his first leader recording. Another outstanding solo outing came in 2020 with Monk – Fifteen Piano Reflections (Notami Jazz). A multi-instrumentalist and composer, Stefano’s primary focus on his recordings is the piano. He has won first prize at the International Piano Competition for Composers and Book of Innocence is Stefano’s fifth album as a leader or co-leader.
As on two of his previous releases, The Hungarian Songbook (Terre Sommerse, 2013), and The Long Line (Odradek Records, 2019), Book of Innocence is a duo recording with fellow Italian, Achille Succi. He is a multiple award-winning musician, principally self-taught, on alto, and bass clarinet. Achille has performed with Louis Sclavis, Ab Baars and Ernst Rejiseger, among others.
Inspired by the Russian-born abstract artist Mark Rothko, the opening track, ‘Rothko’, is one of melody, variation in texture, tones, light and shade, and mood. The playing from Travaglini moves around flowing melody and rumbling accompaniment – both provided by him, Succi blew wonderfully controlled extended notes on sax and the interplay between the two musicians is as sublime as it is surreal and swirling. ‘Bauci’, according to the liner notes, takes its inspiration from an Italo Calvini novel (Invisible Cities for those who like to know these things). Succi is on clarinet and plays a relatively simple melody over Travaglini’s piano harmony. The use of clarinet gives a nice warm tone to the reflective sounding piece.
In the liner notes ‘Silent Moon’ and ‘Turning Tables’ are commented on collectively and I do understand why. The two are similar in style and structure and the interaction between the two players is as creative as it is beautiful. Both musicians take turn on leading from the front and the switching from one to the other is seamless. However, there are three other tracks separating ‘Silent Moon’ and ‘Turning Tables’ and the first of those is ‘Polymorph’ – and the title is an appropriate one. Travaglini’s piano provides the variety of sound, tone, and texture with Succi softening out the multifarious nature of the number with elegant flowing lines.
‘Travels’ is the only cover on Books of Innocence (Pat Metheny from his album Trio 99 → 00) and whilst the duo have kept the essence of the original intact, I have to say that I think this arrangement delivers more than the Metheny composition. There is a richness and depth to the tune that I found affecting and do not feel is there in the original. With a title like ‘Vipassana’ (a form of Buddhist meditation) one would expect this number to be reflective and to an extent it is but there is also a quiet energy about it. The bass clarinet provides the most wonderful deep tones that ground the tune while the piano plays out the central melodic line.
‘Blues for Days to Come’ is led by Achille Succi with Stefano Travaglini providing the rhythm. It is only as the track progresses that Succi’s “blues” sound comes more in to focus. I felt that this number had a cinematic edged “blues” edge in that the playing is more refined than a more authentic “blues” number, but this does nothing to detract from the appeal of tune as it is performed here. The album closes with the title track, the longest on the album and, again according to the liner notes, incorporates six of Stefano Travaglini’s shorter compositions into a single unified grouping. The transition between the parts that make up this track are not seamless but neither do they jar. The playing is superb and gives the listener so much to reflect on and enjoy, and highlights just how good these two musicians are on their respective instruments.
The liner notes finish with this paragraph:
The Museum of Modern Art describes the centerpiece of Matisse’s The Red Studio as a grandfather clock with no hands. They suggest that the visual work exists in an environment where time is put on hold. It can be said that this exceptional work of art, Book of Innocence, lies in a similar place. These two virtuoso musicians have given us a collection that warrants repeated and complete attention. It is an exceptionally rewarding listening experience.Karl Ackermann, All About Jazz
There is nothing I can argue with in those words! I have been fortunate this year in being asked to review a number of album releases by Italian jazz musicians and all have been very good examples of contemporary European style jazz and Book of Innocence is among the best of those I have heard so far. The musical relationship between Travaglini and Succi is as strong as it is supportive and complementary. The music is beautifully emotional, evocative, reflective, nuanced and intelligent. There is nothing superfluous in the compositions, arrangements or improvisations and I very much enjoyed each and every track of Book of Innocence.
Musicians: Stefano Travaglini – piano; Achille Succi – bass clarinet & alto sax.
Tracklist: 1. Rothko. 2. Bauci. 3. Silent Moon. 4. Polymorph. 5. Travels. 6. Vipassana. 7. Turning tables. 8. Blue for Days to Come. 9. Book of Innocence.
All tracks composed by Stefano Travaglini except ‘Travels’ written by Pat Metheny.