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Jon Balke: Magnetic Works 1993-2001

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Jon Balke Magnetic Works 1993-2001 ECM Records 2012 As his flagship Magnetic North Orchestra nears its two-decade anniversary in 2013, Norwegian pianist/composer/bandleader Jon Balke has been performing occasional shows with Magnetic Book, taking a fresh look at the group's repertoire through an expanded edition where its core septet is augmented with an additional six baroque string players. Its 2011 performance, at the Oslo International Jazz Festival, was so compelling in its implementation of unorthodox compositional constructs--doing more than merely blurring the boundary between form and freedom, and instead dissolving it completely--that when All About Jazz ...

CD/LP/TRACK REVIEW

Jon Balke: Diverted Travels

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As Jon Balke moves further and further away from his '80s work with the Miles-informed group Masqualero, he moves deeper into abstraction, experimenting with instrumental combinations that allow for a broad range of textures within an ever-expanding concept. Since the mid-'90s, with his constantly shifting Magnetic North Orchestra, he has explored the juncture between composition and improvisation in a way that assimilates an increasing number of world music influences, yet never seems to sound directly like any of them. Diverted Travels , his latest project with a radically reworked Magnetic North Orchestra, may be his most obscure release yet; it ...

CD/LP/TRACK REVIEW

Jon Balke Batagraf: Say And Play

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He may be nowhere near a household name in North America, but elsewhere-- in particular in his native Norway--pianist Jon Balke's influence continues to grow. That he's better known for the music he writes--and the contexts in which he delivers it--shouldn't be taken as a negative, either; only that, with projects like the brass-heavy Oslo 13, chamber-tinged Magnetic North Orchestra and culturally and stylistically cross-pollinated Siwan (ECM, 2009), the collaboration-minded Balke simply doesn't opt for contexts where his own playing is front and center. Even a solo piano project like Book of Velocities (ECM, 2008), where he's as exposed as ...

CD/LP/TRACK REVIEW

Hans Ulrik / Benjamin Koppel / Jon Balke / Palle Danielsson / Alex Riel: The Adventures of a Polar Expedition

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The exploration of arctic landscapes has always fascinated mankind, and both paintings and literature testify to man's longings for the icy unknown. However, few musicians have tried to translate the adventures of the arctic explorers into sound. Danish saxophonist Benjamin Koppel's ambitious The Adventure of a Polar Expedition sets out to right that wrong. Divided into four suites that each portrays a polar explorer and his journey, suite one, “Time and Ice Suite," sets the general mood for the album with an homage to the life and work of Knud Rasmussen. The opening “Nothing but Ice" is ...

EXTENDED ANALYSIS

Jon Balke: Siwan

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Jon Balke Siwan ECM Records 2009

Keyboardist Jon Balke's project Siwan is another category-defying masterpiece blending different elements from various traditions and styles into something special. It is an incredibly powerful work, where Balke makes the kind of cinematic music that simply defies tidy description because of its richness of resources and references. He invites a 12 piece baroque ensemble, Barokksolistene, Algerian violinist Kheir Eddine M'Kachiche, Iranian zarb player Pedram Khavar Zamini, Norwegian percussionist Helge Norbakken, a Moroccan vocalist, Amina Alaoui and music alchemist Jon Hassell into a soundworld that unfurls around ...

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Jon Balke: Siwan

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A banner year for ECM in many respects, 2009 has seen two specific releases that, in their intrepid conceptual cross-pollination, stand poised as contemporary masterpieces. One is composer/sound sculptor Ambrose Field's exploration of 15th Century composer Guillame Dufay's music with tenor John Potter on the forward-thinking Being Dufay (ECM, 2009); the other is Norwegian keyboardist/composer Jon Balke's Siwan. Being Dufay turned music from a European classical environs ultra-modernistic, even for this 21st Century. Balke takes music from Middle Eastern and Spanish sources, spanning over seven centuries, to create world music existing along a broad continuum that features, in ...

CD/LP/TRACK REVIEW

Jon Balke: Siwan

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The competent and successful musico-cultural eutection promoted by ECM founder Manfred Eicher since the release of Jan Garbarek/Hilliard Ensemble's Officium (ECM, 1993) takes another quantum step with keyboardist Jon Balke's imaginative and far reaching Siwan. Balke enters a realm of cross-cultural pollination evolving from Officium, through that same collaboration's expanded vision on Mnemosyne (ECM, 1999) to John Potter's excellent Dowland Project outings: Care-Charming Sleep (ECM, 2001) and Romaria (ECM, 2006).

The focus of Siwan is not one of strict musical scholarship, but rather the imagining of what music would have sounded like at a certain place and time lost to ...

CD/LP/TRACK REVIEW

Jon Balke: Book of Velocities

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On paper, Norwegian pianist Jon Balke's first solo album reads like challenging stuff: a collection of eighteen short improvisations, grouped into five sub-sections (four “chapters" and an “epilogue"), and concerned as much with the velocities with which the piano's strings can be struck--and how they can be struck--as with thematic or harmonic development. Something for fellow pianists to marvel at and the general listener to struggle with.

In actuality, Book Of Velocities is an accessible and rewarding album, rich in melody, which requires no formal musical training or special cerebral powers to appreciate. And despite its structure, it ...

CD/LP/TRACK REVIEW

Jon Balke: Book Of Velocities

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As time goes on, the ECM label continues to stretch the meaning of the word jazz, allowing it to encompass almost any kind of music that allows for improvisation or sounds like it does. With Book Of Velocities, pianist/composer/band leader Jon Balke connects with various worlds: of the piano as a physical entity that can produce sound in many different ways; of the creative process as it feeds back on itself through time; of effecting control over abstract musical elements, thus creating meaning; and communicating intellectually and emotionally. The album's intense effect is in how these worlds ...

CD/LP/TRACK REVIEW

Jon Balke: Book of Velocities

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Over the course of three decades Jon Balke has, without any particular muss or fuss, emerged not only as one of Norway's finest pianists in a sphere of jazz of the largest possible definition, but one of its most influential. From his early days with bassist Arild Anderson and drummer Jon Christensen's Masqualero, Balke's writing and playing transcended the group's open-ended take on Miles Davis' mid-1960s free-bop to include musical and cultural markers from farther abroad. Recent albums like the percussion-heavy Statements (ECM, 2006), with his Batagraf group and Diverted Travels (ECM, 2004), a string-filled edition of his longstanding Magnetic ...

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Jon Balke / Batagraf: Statements

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Batagraf is less a group or band than a collection of like-minded musicians who have come together to explore ideas related to rhythm and language. Made up of four percussionists and five vocalist/reciters, along with but two “normal" instrumentalists (trumpet and alto saxophone) and Balke himself playing electronic keyboard and percussion, plus some vocals and sound processing, one might think that the music would be percussion heavy. That is not the case, and, if you can suppress expectations and allow the sounds of Statements to flow, you can have a very interesting listening experience. Balke has always ...

CD/LP/TRACK REVIEW

Jon Balke / Batagraf: Statements

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Even the most distinctive artists, who have honed voices that distinguish them from their peers, typically have some identifiable precedents. Norwegian pianist Jon Balke's earlier works with Oslo 13 and the Magnetic North Orchestra all bear obscured antecedents that can be found by digging deep enough. Recent albums like Diverted Travels (ECM, 2004) seem to operate in a separate universe, however, leaving behind the shackles of convention and creating a new aesthetic where Balke demands as much of the listener as he does his ensemble. Balke's latest project, Batagraf, advances his ongoing progression towards greater abstraction and ...



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