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Jazz - Released May 22, 2009 | ECM

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Contemporary Jazz - Released May 15, 2020 | ECM

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Having worked with ECM Records over several decades, Jon Balke is the epitome of the versatile musician. For example, in 2009, the Norweigan pianist, who is now 65 years old, embarked on a new adventure with his album Siwan, an international collective that blurred the boundaries between world music, classical music and jazz. In his latest release, Discourses, Balke returns to his solo work mixing soundscapes made of compositions, improvisations and what we now call “sound design”. He continues the methodology employed on Warp, the deeply introspective album he released in 2016, and develops it further. As is often the case with his piano music the songs are layered with disparate textures that are often acoustic but are sometimes electronic. The flowing melodies are interrupted at times with subtle dissonances and even unexpected sounds. The concept for this 2020 vintage originates from one of Balke’s very own ideas. The Norweigan based his work on various observations about language, viewing the notions of discourse and dialogue as fading concepts in light of the surge of rhetoric characterised by confrontation and conflict. “In this work I had the framework of language with me from the very beginning”, he says. “As the political climate hardened in 2019 with more and more polarized speech, the lack of dialogue pointed me towards the terms that constitute the titles for the tracks”. That being said, you don’t need this discourse in mind to enjoy this vast array of piano figurations which are delightful as they are. © Marc Zisman/Qobuz
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Jazz - Released February 12, 2016 | ECM

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Jazz - Released November 3, 2017 | ECM

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In 2009, Jon Balke, who’s been a resident at the ECM label for several years, embarks on the Siwan adventure, an international collective created in order to make the boundaries between world music, classical music and jazz sway. Moroccan singer Amina Alaoui and American trumpet player Jon Hassell are then among its copilots… Eight years later, the Norwegian pianist revives this adventure by placing his exceptional instrumental forces at the service of a new voice, the one of Algerian singer Mona Boutchebak. With Siwan – Nahnou Houm, Balke and his musicians highlight the links between Arab music, Andalusian classical music and European baroque music that have ignited the sextagenarian Norwegian’s imagination when he started this project. To bring these sound scenes even closer, he set about putting into music Al Andalus’ poetry, reflecting an era of coexistence between the three great monotheistic religions. The strength as well as the singularity of Siwan is to never present itself as a historic project but on the contrary as a really contemporary swerve, delivered by an association of strong-minded musicians, putting their talents at the service of a singer deeply rooted in Arab traditional music. © CM/Qobuz
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Jazz - Released May 13, 2002 | ECM

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Contemporary Jazz - Released May 15, 2020 | ECM

Booklet
Having worked with ECM Records over several decades, Jon Balke is the epitome of the versatile musician. For example, in 2009, the Norweigan pianist, who is now 65 years old, embarked on a new adventure with his album Siwan, an international collective that blurred the boundaries between world music, classical music and jazz. In his latest release, Discourses, Balke returns to his solo work mixing soundscapes made of compositions, improvisations and what we now call “sound design”. He continues the methodology employed on Warp, the deeply introspective album he released in 2016, and develops it further. As is often the case with his piano music the songs are layered with disparate textures that are often acoustic but are sometimes electronic. The flowing melodies are interrupted at times with subtle dissonances and even unexpected sounds. The concept for this 2020 vintage originates from one of Balke’s very own ideas. The Norweigan based his work on various observations about language, viewing the notions of discourse and dialogue as fading concepts in light of the surge of rhetoric characterised by confrontation and conflict. “In this work I had the framework of language with me from the very beginning”, he says. “As the political climate hardened in 2019 with more and more polarized speech, the lack of dialogue pointed me towards the terms that constitute the titles for the tracks”. That being said, you don’t need this discourse in mind to enjoy this vast array of piano figurations which are delightful as they are. © Marc Zisman/Qobuz
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Jazz - Released June 22, 2012 | ECM

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Jazz - Released October 23, 2007 | ECM

Simply put, there are no solo piano recordings like this one. Jon Balke, director of the Magnetic North Orchestra and Oslo 13, has never recorded a solo piano set before. It's quite remarkable when one thinks of his facility as both a composer and an improviser, and as a musician who can rely on the piano's original tenets as a percussion instrument quite strikingly -- as he does as a member of the group Batagraf. Yet nothing could have prepared the listener for this gorgeous set of unedited, unprocessed, and undubbed piano pieces. Balke got the idea for this recording from his interest in photography. He'd take pictures from a moving car while listening to music and driving -- without looking through the camera or at what he was photographing. He'd then take different pictures with his camera adjusted for better results. This work doesn't sound that wild, but involves a sense of planning (composition), action (development), reaction (invention), and moving forward (improvisation). The structure of this album consists of 18 pieces, divided into four chapters and a pair of epilogues. An idea would be sketched live, then developed upon once or twice or even three times, and then left for another -- a book perhaps, made up of episodes but not necessarily a narrative. Balke astonishes the listener with his sense of using the entire instrument -- in one piece he rubs the strings inside with one hand while playing a melody with the other. One or two lines are uttered in a melodic or harmonic frame and "further" narrated until the process exhausts itself or a new idea emerges. It is a restrained idea of working, but it is not restricted. It is a refining process from which something new always emerges. It is the story that begins but consistently moves and shifts, quickly since none of these pieces is more than 4:46 in length, with some as short as 56 seconds. Movement and the degree of force in creating sounds become structural ways of working by velocity. This is not mere academic playing, either. It is very minimal, but also very malleable; change is the order of the proceeding, so a quiet form of delight is given to the listener as the process of discovery unfolds over and over again. Highly recommended. © Thom Jurek /TiVo
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Jazz - Released August 30, 2004 | ECM

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Jazz - Released February 1, 1992 | ECM

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Jazz - Released November 3, 2017 | ECM

In 2009, Jon Balke, who’s been a resident at the ECM label for several years, embarks on the Siwan adventure, an international collective created in order to make the boundaries between world music, classical music and jazz sway. Moroccan singer Amina Alaoui and American trumpet player Jon Hassell are then among its copilots… Eight years later, the Norwegian pianist revives this adventure by placing his exceptional instrumental forces at the service of a new voice, the one of Algerian singer Mona Boutchebak. With Siwan – Nahnou Houm, Balke and his musicians highlight the links between Arab music, Andalusian classical music and European baroque music that have ignited the sextagenarian Norwegian’s imagination when he started this project. To bring these sound scenes even closer, he set about putting into music Al Andalus’ poetry, reflecting an era of coexistence between the three great monotheistic religions. The strength as well as the singularity of Siwan is to never present itself as a historic project but on the contrary as a really contemporary swerve, delivered by an association of strong-minded musicians, putting their talents at the service of a singer deeply rooted in Arab traditional music. © CM/Qobuz
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Jazz - Released October 21, 2011 | ECM

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Jazz - Released May 22, 2009 | ECM

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Jazz - Released April 1, 1994 | ECM

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Jazz - Released February 12, 2016 | ECM

Jon Balke's musical life has been lived on the wide-open fringe of expression. He has utilized conventional Western European and Asian folk traditions, electronics, classical, jazz and avant-garde techniques, and various spoken, sung, and percussive languages. Given all of his previous experimentation, Warp is one of the most mysterious dates in his career. The vast majority of the 16 pieces here are miniatures, only one is over five minutes. Balke plays solo piano throughout, and accompanies himself by utilizing field recordings and other electronic sounds placed carefully in the backdrops and margins. It would seem this work is one piece initially -- you have to look at the inside sleeve to see the individual titles; but instead, this is a work of carefully sequenced individual works that present a labyrinth. "Heliolatry" opens in the piano's lower middle register with dark, brooding notes. A fluttery static and the scraping of strings inside the instrument lend a backdrop to a thematic flurry of notes and scales as they dialogue with one another. Static and what sounds like an organ pair with the wordless vocals of Wenche Losnegaard in "On and On," which ends with an open-ended question. "Bolide" possesses a hymn-like, folk song quality, while sparse processional chordal statements make up its corpus on either side of middle C. The all-too-brief "Shibboleth" employs somewhat angular improvisation, with field-recorded percussive sounds lining the frame. Balke actually slips into Lennie Tristano-esque scalar runs and then moves off center in a more speculative -- and dissonant -- direction. The indecipherable "announcement reading" of Balke's daughter Ellinor provides a sound sculpture for his plucked bass strings to bridge just the hint of a melody. It's followed by the genuinely haunting "Slow Spin," a jazz improvisation that is framed ever so faintly with droning electronic sounds. While "Kantor" asserts itself as a lithe, elliptical piano interlude, it is transformed by a mesh of field-recorded sounds and the voice of Mattis Myrland into a gorgeous art song. The album closes with a variation on "Heliolatry," then forgoes the inner instrument scraping for a more assertive dialogue with a synth imitating an organ. Balke's piano is assertive, creating a leitmotif from the more spectral dark notes in the first version. Warp is curious. Its quark strangeness may prove a tad unsettling early on, but settles into a quietly compelling invitation for the listener. The entire experience offers a different series of questions, answers, and conclusions each time it is encountered. The language Balke speaks is that of the piano as it encounters the inner resonances of its physical body, as well as those of the outer, indefinable tongues of sound itself. © Thom Jurek /TiVo