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Jon Balke / Batagraf: Statements

Budd Kopman By

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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 been an deep musical thinker, and on Kyanos (ECM, 2002) he coaxed music from instrumental players that was quite beautiful in its own stark way, evoking many different emotions through the motives and mix of instrumentalists, while taking his time and allowing the album to evolve on its own.

Statements has entirely different aims and sounds completely different; the Magnetic North Orchestra is not Batagraf. The main ideas relate to the intersection of language and musical rhythm—the place where language has its own rhythms and rhythm is own meanings. As Balke says, "The idea triggered the project in two directions: the inclusion of literal meaning in the sound itself and focus on the rhythm and musicality of spoken language."

Electronics play a big part in the sound of this record, not only the keyboards but also the fact that almost everything, including the drums, is processed in some way. Much of the drumming is based in the African tradition, which emphasizes the meaning held within the rhythms. "Haomanna" introduces these drums in simple rhythms and a text recital by Miki N'Doye in Wolof that has its own rhythm. Keyboards join in (with some extremely low sounds) as eventually does Frode Nymo on alto sax. We slowly ease into a jazz piece showing that language, rhythm and music are all related. "Butano" follows in this vein, but at a faster rhythm, actually creating a light, tight groove with some higher voices in the background. Nymo comes in again, playing some very long, sinuous lines, and once more the relationship is made clear.

"Doublespeak" stresses rhythm and language content as a female voice in the foreground says some short politicized words against a steady drum background with some injections of keyboards, processed drums and background voices. Electronic sounds which could easily come from insects begin "Altiett," as a sped up background voice provides an imitation of the same. Behind this there are many drum sounds, processed and unprocessed. When Nymo enters once again, the piece almost coalesces into a rather cool but raucous track, only to fall apart toward the end. "Pajaro" is fascinating as a baby's vocalizations are accompanied by organ sounds. Having now been sensitized, our ears perceive the voice sounding full of melody and rhythm.

Entering the sound world of Jon Balke's Batagraf is ultimately quite easy and enjoyable, with many rewards as it pulls you along.

Visit Jon Balke on the web.


Track Listing: Haomanna; Butano; Rraka; Doublespeak; Pregoneras Del Bosque; Betong; Altiett; En Vuelo; Pajaro; Whistleblower; Karagong; Unknown

Personnel: Frode Nymo: alto saxophone; Jon Balke: keyboards, percussion, vocals; Kenneth Ekornes: percussion; Harald Skullerud: percussion; Helge Andreas Norbakken: percussion; Ingar Zach: percussion; Arve Henriksen: trumpet; Sidsel Endersen: text recitals in English; Miki N

Title: Statements | Year Released: 2006 | Record Label: ECM Records

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