In the Groove
Jon Balke and Batagraf
Say and Play
Scandinavians have long had a strong connection with jazz, both as fans (visiting US artists have long been treated as royalty) and as practitioners. Perhaps it's the cold weather keeping people indoors and ready to tackle the arts or maybe the healthy government support. Either way, I am grateful because this album by Norwegian pianist and composer Jon Balke is fascinating. This is a collaboration with Batagraf who, according to the bio, are "a percussion think tank, a constellation of players researching the outer parameters of rhythmic music". So yes, this is quite experimental music, the kind that can make Bjork look mainstream. All manner of percussion instruments are employed, from djembe and darbouka through to electronic sounds. Added to this is an array of keyboard sounds including piano and topped with improvised vocalisations and poetry reading. The ability to straddle genres so effectively makes this a very compelling contemporary music album. The pop listener will find something familiar in the occasional repeated vocal phrases or bass riffs and subtle electronics, the jazz fan might follow the blistering single note piano melody lines while the percussion fan will appreciate the intricate call and response phrases. My only criticism is the rather cold and clinical recording that detracts from the very organic and human feel of the music.
This album is available from Music Bizarre in Lismore.