Pat Battstone and Antonella Chionna, The Voice of Robert Desnos

by Sylvannia Garutch

Our modern society has a history of poetry and song, since the first poems were recited to music played on the lyre, this is where the word “lyric” originates. However, today there is a divide, poems are published in books and journals, while songs are heard but seldom read. Surprisingly, few recordings combine spoken poetry accompanied by jazz artists. Pianist Patrick Battstone’s release, The Voice of Robert Desnos does just that.

Battstone’s goal was to bring to life the similarity between Desnos’ poetry writing process and musical improvisation. The creative processes of self-abandon, instinctive actions and spontaneity are means by which improvising artist (both musicians and poets) transcend to a deeper creativity where one loses all self-identity and becomes the creative process, in that moment of flowing creativity. In March 2016, during a collaborative period with Italian vocalist Antonella Chionna, Battstone met the perfect match to embark on his ideas. A few months later, Chionna arrived in America and the two began to fuse Desnos with an improvisation ensemble. Two pieces were done publicly, and one was recorded for the CD Rylesonable.

In September 2016, Battstone went into the studio with Chionna without any agenda. On the second track, they decided to try the poem The Voice of Robert Desnos. “We both looked at each other and knew what was next – A collection of Desnos’ poetry. The second session was booked and all the texts were in hand. One take for each poem was all that we needed,” says Battstone.  The result was The Voice of Robert Desnos an engaging journey of music and poetry melded into a lasting experience.

Chionna’s delivery of Desnos’ work brings to life the truth and emotion of each poem, while Battstone provides a rich sonic and rhythmic structure of free-flowing music. Battstone’s elegant, expressive playing and Chionna’s incantatory words is a conversation among equals as the opening track, “If You Only Knew,” quickly demonstrates, the two have a unique method of interplay that is sincere and connected at a deep level.

“Les Yeux d’Yvonne George” finds Battstone playing a beautiful improvised melody with excellent tension and release harmony. It is clear that he has a rich background in both tadeonal jazz and classical music. His improvisation has form and movement, tender moments and musical flurries of emotion. His phrases breath and have shape, creating musical sentences and paragraphs; he tells a story.

“Nature Boy” is a real gem. Chionna’s ability to stretch every creative drop out of this well-known melody displays her musicianship to its fullest. Battsone is sensitive and supportive with her explorations and the two flow through musical territories that allow the listener to truly understand just how much the two listen to each other and react to each other’s stimulus in the moment. Overall, just excellent music.

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