Jon Balke & Magnetic North Orchestra: Kyanos (ECM 1822)


Jon Balke & Magnetic North Orchestra

Magnetic North Orchestra
Per Jørgensen trumpet
Morten Halle saxophones, flute
Arve Henriksen trumpet
Svante Henryson cello
Jon Balke piano, keyboards
Anders Jormin double-bass
Audun Kleive drums, percussion
Recorded November 2001 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Jon Balke and Manfred Eicher

For Kyanos, Jon Balke continues the journey begun on Further with an assembly of likeminded label mates—among them trumpeters Per Jørgensen and Arve Henriksen, bassist Anders Jormin, and drummer Audun Kleive—under the moniker Magnetic North Orchestra to ply the glaciers of the Norwegian pianist’s nostalgic compositional approach. Many permutations of the album’s title (which means “blue” in Greek) find purchase in the album’s intimate geography. “Mutatio,” for one, unpacks the depressing implications of the color, trading piano-heavy gestures with soft punctuations from the MNO, each a hope sidestepped in favor of seclusion. “Katabolic” tells the same story but reverses the formula, fronting Jørgensen and Henriksen against intermittent swells of synth. “In vitro” seems to speak in the language of the color itself, as if it were an entire species with specific taxonomic histories and genetic signatures.

Balke’s introduction to opener “Phanai” is the most evocative of them all, dancing like sunlight between tree branches. Sudden intakes betray a drama waiting to leap out into the wider world, finding instead the slow entry of percussion and brass. The feeling is one of a giant sleepwalking through forest as if it were underbrush. Balke and Jormin’s rhythmically savvy interplay bleeds contrast. With insectile harmonics and trembling heart, Jormin bounces along the inner walls of “Zygotos” with a string of genetic possibilities while the surface around him glows to the horns’ intervals, though nowhere no delicate as in “Ganglion,” a masterful conversation between Balke, Jormin, and Kleive that is the most microscopic portion of the set. Haunting accents from flutist Morten Halle and cellist Svante Henryson indicate a world much farther away, a place where the eddying winds cease only for the fearless.

The second half of Kyanos consists of miniatures in more ways than one. The intimate details of “Plica” and “Nano”—mostly percussive expressions and dream-tracings—intensify the magnification. Clicks on piano strings and sibilant fluting designate especially fruitful cells of intent. “Karyon” is the album’s truest groove and packs huge emotion into barest gestures. Its evolution from blind wandering to keen-eyed flight reaches its peak in the form of Jørgensen’s unique vocal edge. Henryson duets enigmatically with Jormin in the concluding “Apsis.”

A prevalence of biological imagery in the song names characterizes this album as a mapping of bodily spaces, thus clarifying the ultimate nuance of blue: namely, as the stain beneath a cover slide. The title track is the most concentrated solution to be found on this laboratory bench, enhancing as it does the emotional details of everything around it. Just turn up the volume as you would a focus knob, and it will all become clear.

One thought on “Jon Balke & Magnetic North Orchestra: Kyanos (ECM 1822)

  1. Though it may not be musically logical, I lump Jon Balke’s music with those of Edward Vesala and Barre Phillips…odd combinations of sounds, often an absence of linearity and forward motion (but not exclusively so) – yet capable of provoking strong feelings and moods. Because of that, though I don’t have any of these artists on a regular listening cycle, they are delightful to revisit, because there simply is very little like them. To be more specific, Kyanos is one of my favorite “recent” ECM releases.

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