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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Steve Arloff, Nick Barnard, Pierre Giroux, Don Mather, James Poore, Glyn Pursglove, George Stacy, Bert Thompson, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf



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JON BALKE

Warp

ECM 476 6047

 

 

  1. Heliolatry
  2. This Is The Movie
  3. Bucolic
  4. On And On
  5. Bolide
  6. Amarinthine
  7. Shibboleth
  8. Mute
  9. Slow Spin
  10. Boodle
  11. Dragoman
  12. Kantor
  13. Germinate
  14. Telesthesia
  15. Germinate Var.
  16. Heliolatry Var.
Jon Balke - Piano, sound images
Mattis Myrland, Wenche Losnegaard - Vocals
Ellinor Myskja Balke - Announcement reading


The Norwegian pianist, composer and arranger Jon Balke may not be the best-known jazz musician on the European scene but he is certainly among the more interesting ones. His initial musical impact was with jazz-rock groups in the early 1970s but he quickly began to broaden his horizons. He played, for instance, with the renowned bassist, Arild Andersen and subsequently joined Andersen in an all-star Norwegian quintet, Masqualero. Other musicians in the band were the trumpeter Nils Petter Molvaer, the saxophonist Tore Brunborg and the drummer Jon Christensen. From 1990 onwards Balke belonged to a free-improvising trio, Jøkleba. He was also to compose for the theatre and was actually commissioned to write a suite, for an eleven piece orchestra, entitled Magnetic North for the Lillehammer Winter Olympics in 1994. Over the next couple of years, he toured Europe, Japan and the USA with the Magnetic North ensemble, a group he continued to record and tour with, into the new millennium. The influence of world music has also been significant in his development, witness his 2009 album for ECM, Siwan, where he appropriated the music of the period of Moorish civilisation in Andalusia (southern Spain) and interpreted it in a way which incorporated modern improvisation and even shades of the Baroque.

This latest offering from Balke illustrates his interest in multi-media projects. He takes centre stage on solo piano, exploiting the instrument to its full potential. In addition, he makes use of electronic sound images and of field recordings, taken from an urban context for the most part. I believe the historic and spacious Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, successively a church, then a mosque, now a museum, was also utilised. There are sixteen tracks on the album, the longest just over five minutes in length, all composed by Balke. Far and away the most impressive is Bolide which begins in emphatic style and then takes a solemn, interesting and downright lovely turn. This Is The Movie features a rich and ingenious combination of sounds which enhance the delicate exploration of the theme. Bucolic gives us some expansive piano from Balke, though the soundscape provided suggests, for all the world, a cistern refilling. Both Slow Spin and Kantor have creative bursts of melodic improvisation, the latter with background voices supplied by Mattis Myrland and Wenche Losnegaard. Losnegaard can also be heard on the thoughtful On And On. Incidentally, Balke's daughter, Ellinor, is involved as a reader on Shibboleth, one of the more abstract tracks. The final piece, Heliolatry, is a variation on the earlier version on the disc and is both longer and more intriguing.

Suffice to say that listeners who are happy with a robustly experimental approach to sound, music and space will find much of interest and enjoyment on Balke's CD, the latest in a partnership between artiste and label which goes back to his earliest album with them in 1992, as part of the Oslo 13 group.

James Poore



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