Jon Balke w/Magnetic North Orchestra: Further (ECM 1517)

Jon Balke
Magnetic North Orchestra
Further

Jens Petter Antonsen lead trumpet
Per Jørgensen trumpet, vocals
Morten Halle alto saxophone
Tore Brunborg tenor and soprano saxophones
Gertrud Økland violin
Trond Villa viola
Jonas Franke-Blom cello
Jon Balke piano, keyboards
Anders Jormin bass
Marilyn Mazur percussion
Audun Kleive drums
Recorded June 1993 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Although Norwegian pianist/composer Jon Balke has effectively been with ECM since almost the very beginning, having appeared—at the tender age of 19, no less—with Arild Andersen’s early quartet on Clouds In My Head (1975), it wasn’t until the early 1990s that he broke out on his own with such distinct albums as Nonsentration and this fine follow-up. Further is not only a title, but also a mantra that has dictated his career hence through the mouthpiece of his Magnetic North Orchestra, debuting here. The incantation in horn-speak that is “Departure” welcomes us into a signature sound familiar to Balke aficionados: intimate pockets of detail, pianistic swirls, and robust horns that follow wherever he leads (or is led). Yet despite the 10-piece ensemble behind him, which includes such trailblazers as percussionist Marilyn Mazur and trumpeter Per Jørgensen, Balke finds plenty of room to breathe in arrangements as sparse as they are fruitful. His arcing lines, kissed by the sunlight and molten gold of Tore Brunborg’s reeds, take comfort in their surroundings. “Horizontal Song,” for one, languishes, letting cares fall like maple seeds propellering to the ground—prelude to Balke’s low-flying improvisations. Seemingly born to guide, he flushes through lovely chromatic spreads (“Shaded Place”) and groovy touches (“Moving Carpet”) with an easy charm, painting a children’s book of mythical beasts and cautious heroes.

For my money, the Jørgensen/Brunborg/Mazur nexus is where it’s really at on this date. The trumpet’s spaciousness in “Eastern Forest” and tenor’s limber rolls in “Taraf” evoke seasonal changes and unforgettable memories. Jørgensen flexes his vocal cords in “Changing Song” amid Mazur’s alluring, humid atmospheres, leaving the pointillist wonders of “Wooden Voices” to return us to the brassy fold of “Arrival.”

Balke is an artist whose music hides as much as it reveals, and Further is one way to get closer.

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