Batagraf/Jon Balke: Statements (ECM 1932)


Jon Balke

Frode Nymo alto saxophone
Kenneth Ekornes percussion
Harald Skullerud percussion
Helge Andreas Norbakken percussion
Ingar Zach percussion
Jon Balke keyboards, percussion, vocals, sound processing
Arve Henriksen trumpet
Sidsel Endresen text recitals in English
Miki N´Doye text recital in Wolof
Solveig Slettahjell vocals
Jocely Sete Camara Silva voice
Jennifer Myskja Balke voice
Recorded 2003 and 2004 at “Bugge’s Room” by Andy Miteis
Mixed at “7. Etasje” by Reidar Skår
Mastered at “Lydlab” by Ulf Holand
Produced by Jon Balke

Statements represents a leap in intuition for pianist Jon Balke, who by way of his self-styled “private research forum” Batagraf holds a meeting of percussionists Kenneth Ekornes, Harald Skullerud, Helge Andreas Norbakken, and Ingar Zach, along with Frode Nymo on alto saxophone, trumpeter Arve Henriksen, and an array of voices that includes label familiars Sidsel Endresen and Miki N’Doye, the latter making his second ECM appearance (his first: Balke’s Nonsentration) and here not as percussionist but as poet, reciting texts in the language of the Wolof people of West Africa. As one of ECM’s most up close and personal records (there’s hardly any reverb to speak of), Statements unfolds nakedly, transcending the heavy touch of technology in favor of the freer language of acoustic drums. Indeed, language flows through this project like blood, whether through actual or implied speech.

N’Doye is a defining presence early on in the program, which opens with the spliced diction of “Haomanna.” Seemingly engaged in one-sided antiphony, he inhales savanna and exhales urban networks, barely stitching the lines of keyboard and saxophone trading places at the periphery. Nymo’s parasitic reed work locates further hosts throughout, threading needles through the geographical mash-up of “Altiett” and careening freely across the open skies of “Whistleblower.”

Despite its organic charge, Statements occasionally dresses itself in the peculiar fashion of postproduction. The mélange of instruments and distorted speech that is “En vuelo” reveals wires for veins. “Doublespeak” refracts likewise. Less Orwellian nightmare than Aristotelian breakdown, its word choice flirts with impropriety. Another example in this regard is “Pregoneras del bosque,” a bazaar of the mind whose fruit is weighed by the emotion. Electronic beats and croaks share the air with live murmurings of hand on drum. The final triptych, however, forms the pièce de resistance. In “Pajaro” toddling echoes of childhood linger against a din of buzz saws and insects. All of this encrypts the data entry point of “Karagong,” an archival glitch that reveals its skeleton in “Unknown.” Here uncertainty is the norm, a world through which denizens go on teetering for another hit of oxygen. This is the new ecology, a scrape of survival, anointed by fear.

Statements again proves Balke to be one of the most consistently surprising and uncompromising artists in ECM’s stable. Those seeking points of comparison to this particular disc may find them in “Betong,” for which the closest analogue would be the proliferations of the late Bryn Jones (1961-1999), a.k.a. Muslimgauze, bonded as it is by a likeminded politics and disdain for injurious media, spoken through the drum. In both is a misunderstood flag that flaps only when the wind of our attention shifts its way.

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