Learn How

We need your help in 2018

Support All About Jazz All About Jazz is looking for 1,000 backers to help fund our 2018 projects that directly support jazz. You can make this happen by purchasing ad space or by making a donation to our fund drive. In addition to completing every project (listed here), we'll also hide all Google ads and present exclusive content for a full year!


Jon Balke Batagraf: Say And Play

John Kelman By

Sign in to view read count
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 he'll ever be, remains emphatically diverted from Balke the pianist, and is more about Balke the conceptualist.

When he introduced Batagraf with Statements (ECM, 2006), Balke pushed the percussive component that's driven much of his work to a central position, but with a new methodology: the nexus of percussion and language, as explored by a cast of singers, reciters and percussionists that also included trumpeter Arve Henriksen and saxophonist Frode Nymo. Say And Play continues to mine that vinculum of cadence, but with a pared-down quintet that leaves Balke the sole melodic instrument amongst two percussionists, one vocalist and a poet who reads his own work on four tracks.

Balke has become the melodic/harmonic focal point by necessity, yet Say And Play remains largely about the big picture, despite a pointillistic approach brought into sharper detail. The lulling electric piano foundation at the start of "Everyday Music" gives way, almost idiopathically, to unexpected detail as Balke layers his keyboards, punctuated by Helge Andreas Norbakken's talking drum, constructing a growing improvisational mélange.

Say And Play's core group may be small—Balke, drummer Erland Dahlen (Nils Petter Molvaer, Eivind Aarset, Sonic Codex) and vocalist Emilie Stoesen Christensen (daughter of legendary Norwegian drummer Jon Christensen, with whom Balke collaborated in the 1980s in Masqualero)—but its purview is most certainly not. Christensen delivers Balke's stream-of-consciousness lyrics with interpretive elusion on "Riddle #1," bolstered by a paradoxically frenetic yet understated mesh of percussion and Balke's simple chordal pattern, while her singing on the more eminently propulsive "Riddle #2" is more structured, driven by Dahlen's astute ability to propel without resorting to predictable pattern.

Parts of Say And Play even approach song form in ways that Statements did not, with Christensen's wordless vocals on the lyrical yet structurally elliptical "Azulito" a lovely sign of promise yet to be fulfilled. And if poet Torgeir Rebolledo Pedersen's words on the minimalism-informed "Hundred-Handed" will be indiscernable to the Norwegian-challenged, it's their very cadence that makes them nonetheless compelling.

Norbakken has been the rhythmic heart of every Balke ensemble recording for ECM since Diverted Travels (2004), and while Balke remains Batagraf's near-exclusive composer, there's little doubt that the percussionist is a primary instigator of its unique exploration of patois and pulse. If Statements was, indeed, a statement of intent, the capitalized "And" of Say And Play bears similar significance, as Balke, Norbakken and the rest of Batagraf paint a musical big picture where the whole transcends the aggregation of its inestimable parts.

Track Listing: Baka #65; Everyday Music; Riddle #1; Calmly; Vjup; Tonk; The Wind Calmer; Riddle #2; Azulito; Hundred-Handed; One Change; Winds; GMBH.

Personnel: Jon Balke: piano, keyboards, electronics, tungoné, darbouka, percussion; Helge Andreas Norbakken: sabar, gorong, djembe, talking drum, shakers, percussion; Emilie Stoesen Christensen: vocals; Erland Dahlen: drums; Torgeir Rebolledo Pedersen: poetry reading.

Title: Say And Play | Year Released: 2012 | Record Label: ECM Records


Related Video

comments powered by Disqus

More Articles

Read Makes the Heart to Sing: Jazz Hymns CD/LP/Track Review Makes the Heart to Sing: Jazz Hymns
by Dan Bilawsky
Published: December 16, 2017
Read Song of No Regrets CD/LP/Track Review Song of No Regrets
by Jack Bowers
Published: December 16, 2017
Read Sounding Tears CD/LP/Track Review Sounding Tears
by John Sharpe
Published: December 16, 2017
Read Lighthouse CD/LP/Track Review Lighthouse
by Glenn Astarita
Published: December 16, 2017
Read Kill The Boy CD/LP/Track Review Kill The Boy
by Chris Mosey
Published: December 16, 2017
Read Rain or Shine CD/LP/Track Review Rain or Shine
by Jack Bowers
Published: December 15, 2017
Read "Invisible Hand" CD/LP/Track Review Invisible Hand
by Karl Ackermann
Published: February 9, 2017
Read "WashAshore" CD/LP/Track Review WashAshore
by Geannine Reid
Published: July 30, 2017
Read "Invitation" CD/LP/Track Review Invitation
by Jack Bowers
Published: April 8, 2017
Read "On The Way Downtown: Recorded Live On FolkScene" CD/LP/Track Review On The Way Downtown: Recorded Live On FolkScene
by Doug Collette
Published: October 28, 2017
Read "The Big Beat" CD/LP/Track Review The Big Beat
by C. Michael Bailey
Published: September 16, 2017
Read "Unfiltered Universe" CD/LP/Track Review Unfiltered Universe
by Roger Farbey
Published: September 29, 2017

Support All About Jazz's Future

We need your help and we have a deal. Contribute $20 and we'll hide the six Google ads that appear on every page for a full year!