All About Jazz

Home » Articles » Extended Analysis

Dear All About Jazz Readers,

If you're familiar with All About Jazz, you know that we've dedicated over two decades to supporting jazz as an art form, and more importantly, the creative musicians who make it. Our enduring commitment has made All About Jazz one of the most culturally important websites of its kind in the world reaching hundreds of thousands of readers every month. However, to expand our offerings and develop new means to foster jazz discovery we need your help.

You can become a sustaining member for a modest $20 and in return, we'll immediately hide those pesky Google ads PLUS deliver exclusive content and provide access to future articles for a full year! This combination will not only improve your AAJ experience, it will allow us to continue to rigorously build on the great work we first started in 1995. Read on to view our project ideas...

495

Jon Balke: Jon Balke: Siwan

Nenad Georgievski By

Sign in to view read count
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 his imagination.

Commissioned by Oslo Club Cosmopolite for its jubilee and inspired by the idea of a meeting of the minds of different cultures, Balke takes a dive into the world of medieval Andalucía or Al-Andalus. One of the initial ideas behind this project was an imaginary blending of three cultures—and in an almost continuous flow all of the compositions tell compelling stories through sounds, voices and texts based on writings by Sufi poets, Christian mystics and troubadours.

In Aljamiado language—Aljamiado is a Latin-Arab hybrid language spoken under the Inquisition; it refers to literature written in Spanish but using the Arabic alphabet—Siwan denotes "balance of equilibrium." Al Andalus was the name given to certain parts of Iberian Peninsula by the Arab conquerors. That period, or the Muslim period, in Spain is often described as a "golden age" of learning where libraries, colleges and public baths were established and literature, poetry and architecture flourished. Both Muslims and non-Muslims made major contributions to this flowering of culture. Islamic Spain is sometimes described as a "golden age" of religious and ethnic tolerance and interfaith harmony between Muslims, Christians and Jews. In a way there is a political statement here to today's world political agenda by pointing to a culture that existed peacefully in coexistence in spite of seemingly opposing components. It also suggests and assumes what was lost under the acts of the Inquisition as a symbol of religious and political intolerance.

What began as an imaginary act actually inspired this group of musicians to delve deeper into a culture that shed its light during the "dark" ages. The research for this project has led Balke to many epiphanies. The baroque music, which can be traced to his work with the Magnetic North Orchestra, in its earliest form was enormously influenced by Spanish music. Another key element to this music is vocalist Amina Alaoui, a scholar of philology, linguistics and dance, and a prominent exponent of the ancient music style gharnati (which can be translated as "music from Granada.") Her singing is gorgeous throughout and she took a prominent role in shaping and directing the music on Siwan and its adaptation to the ancient writings.

Deceiving in its simplicity, beguiling in its quiet strength, this music is not going to grab you on the first listen. It needs time to build, to enter your consciousness slowly and with feeling. But once it is there it will hold you in rapt attention. The overall feeling is of music with a Middle Eastern feel, but with different flavors as other influences slowly surface. The 11 tracks here exhibit a patient grace as they are crafted in deep tones where the overall feeling is one of shadowy contemplation. This move makes the music consistently intimate and crucially direct. The various compositions are united by a tranquil drifting quality that ebbs and flows in ponderous undulation—very restful, mesmerizing. There are great depths here and strong sonic color.



The booklet is rich with info and gives a history of the poems and the poets who wrote them, the language they were written in, and an English translation. The front imagery features a specific symbol which adds rich additional layers and shadowy obscurity, combined to create an impression of mystery that holds the eye. An album like this is a rarity; hardly ever do you get such beauty in sound, vast dark geographies, a richness of ideas all in one.


Tracks: Tuchia; O Andalusin; Jadwa; Ya Safwati; Ondas do mar de Vigo; Itimad; A la dina dana; Zahori; Ashiyin Raiqin Thulathiyat; Toda Ciencia Trascendiendo.

Personnel: Amina Alaoui: vocal; Jon Hassell: trumpet, electronics; Kheir Eddine M'Kachiche: violin; Jon Balke: keyboards, conductor; Helge Norbakken: percussion; Pedram Khavar Zamini: zarb; Barokksolistene: Bjarte Eike: violin, leader; Per Buhre: violin; Peter Spissky: violin; Anna Ivanovna Sundin: violin; Milos Valent: violin; Rastko Roknic: viola; Joel Sundin: viola; Tom Pitt: cello; Kate Hearne: cello, recorder; Mattias Frostensson: double-bass; Andreas Arend: theorboe, archlute; Hans Knut Sveen: harpsichord, clavichord.


Title: Jon Balke: Siwan | Year Released: 2009 | Record Label: ECM Records

Tags

Related Video

comments powered by Disqus

CD/LP/Track Review
In Pictures
CD/LP/Track Review
Extended Analysis
CD/LP/Track Review
Read more articles
Nahnou Houm

Nahnou Houm

ECM Records
2017

buy
Warp

Warp

ECM Records
2016

buy
Say And Play

Say And Play

ECM Records
2012

buy
 

Say and Play

ECM Records
2011

buy

Related Articles

Read Trouble No More - The Bootleg Series Vol. 13 / 1979-1981 Extended Analysis
Trouble No More - The Bootleg Series Vol. 13 / 1979-1981
by Doug Collette
Published: November 19, 2017
Read Love, Gloom, Cash, Love Extended Analysis
Love, Gloom, Cash, Love
by Patrick Burnette
Published: October 21, 2017
Read Motel Shot: Expanded Edition Extended Analysis
Motel Shot: Expanded Edition
by Doug Collette
Published: July 16, 2017
Read Long Strange Trip: The Untold Story of the Grateful Dead Motion Picture Soundtrack Extended Analysis
Long Strange Trip: The Untold Story of the Grateful Dead...
by Doug Collette
Published: July 14, 2017
Read Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band 50th Anniversary Super Deluxe  Edition Extended Analysis
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band 50th...
by Doug Collette
Published: May 27, 2017
Read Singles: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack - Deluxe Edition Extended Analysis
Singles: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack - Deluxe Edition
by Doug Collette
Published: May 20, 2017
Read "Trouble No More - The Bootleg Series Vol. 13 / 1979-1981" Extended Analysis Trouble No More - The Bootleg Series Vol. 13 / 1979-1981
by Doug Collette
Published: November 19, 2017
Read "Love, Gloom, Cash, Love" Extended Analysis Love, Gloom, Cash, Love
by Patrick Burnette
Published: October 21, 2017
Read "Grateful Dead: Cornell '77" Extended Analysis Grateful Dead: Cornell '77
by Doug Collette
Published: May 6, 2017
Read "Ella Fitzgerald: 100 Songs For A Centennial" Extended Analysis Ella Fitzgerald: 100 Songs For A Centennial
by Nenad Georgievski
Published: April 29, 2017