Jon Balke: Magnetic Works 1993-2001 (ECM 2182/83)

Magnetic Works

Jon Balke
Magnetic Works 1993-2001

Jens Petter Antonsen trumpet
Per Jørgensen trumpet, vocals
Arve Henriksen trumpet, vocals
Morten Halle alto saxophone, flute
Tore Brunborg tenor and soprano saxophones
Gertrud Økland violin
Trond Villa viola
Jonas Franke-Blom violoncello
Svante Henryson violoncello
Cikada String Quartet
Henrik Hannisdal violin
Odd Hannisdal violin
Marek Konstantynowicz viola
Morten Hannisdal violoncello
Jon Balke piano, keyboards, percussion, electronics
Anders Jormin double-bass
Marilyn Mazur percussion
Audun Kleive drums
Recorded 1993 (Further) and 2001 (Kyanos) at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Solarized recorded 1998 at Audiopol, Skien
Engineer: Audun Kleive
and Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Compilation by Jon Balke
An ECM Production

Magnetic Works confirms keyboardist and composer Jon Balke as one of the most important and eclectic voices of Norwegian jazz. Collecting tracks from two ECM albums and nine of ten tracks from the long out-of-print Solarized (originally released in 1999 on the EmArcy label), this 2-CD set is an instant archival gem. In his liner note for the compilation, Balke describes the music he played with his influential Magnetic North Orchestra as having been “written to allow the individual musicians to enter an optimal playground for their expressivity.” Achieving this was no small feat, but listening to these musicians negotiate their personalities by way of the group’s collective distribution promises fascination for the Balke fan and newcomer alike. Although anyone who owns Further and Kyanos will find nothing new among the selections from those albums, hearing them shuffled in the present context is sure to bring about new relationships and nuances.

Further

Released in 1994, Further was the MNO’s label debut. “Departure” opens both album and compilation with an incantation of reed and brass. It’s a full-throated welcoming into a space abundant in elemental colors. The swinging undercurrent of “Changing Song” is picked up by strings and Per Jørgensen’s distinctive vocals, while drummer Audun Kleive and percussionist Marilyn Mazur flesh out the ecosystem of its unfolding. Balke, meanwhile, emotes at the piano through this lush climate with all the freedom of a bird. In this vein, “Flying Thing” expands on the percussive delicacies at hand, bassist Anders Jormin laddering down into the gears of a most intimate machine. Balke then leads a Brazilian-inspired groove, gliding just under the radar of the horns. “Horizontal Song” is a nostalgic piece of heaven. The string section relays pizzicato accents and arco trails while the horns and percussion flock to bass like wings of shadow to a flame. “Moving Carpet” is another rhythmic standout. So open yet so fully plumed, it boasts a soaring turn from saxophonist Tore Brunborg. “Taraf,” with its lovely altoism from Morten Halle, could very well be a Michael Mantler elegy. The ascending bass line of “Shaded Place” most clearly evokes its title. Like a napping stranger whose dreams are visible in a hovering cloud, it turns but does not wake. Balke and Jormin dig deep for emotional treasure and come up with handfuls.

Kyanos

Kyanos, from 2002, is a far more biologically minded album—not only because of the track names, but also because of the intensely miniscule palette on which Balke and his musicians draw throughout. A seemingly omnipresent breath of electronics sets it apart from other MNO records, as does its prioritized roster, only minimally adorned by strings. The title track is quintessential in its pairing of trumpet and droning wave. Like the tracks “Katabolic” and “Mutatio” that precede it, it has caught something mournful in its net and can only contemplate whether to throw it back or consume it. In this sense, Balke’s role is far more physiological than melodic, as demonstrated by the pianistic surgery of “Plica.” The fertility-laden “In Vitro” and “Zygotos” enrich the microscopy of every snake and ladder, breaking skin at last in the exploratory “Karyon.”

Solarized

Solarized sits between these two abridged albums, finishing Disc 1 and beginning Disc 2, as if it were somehow too expansive to contain in full. The rolling snare of “Present Position” ushers us into a substantial sound. Jormin’s bassing is weighty and, in this outing at least, indeed the most magnetic force within the group. Balke follows a linear, faceless figure through catacombs of spontaneity, mapped by the string players as Jørgensen’s trumpet lights every torch in the castle. The title track switches above ground. Through-composed beginnings lead to some beautiful leaps from Halle, who reaches catharsis with a hard-hitting altissimo. A phenomenal exercise in rewarded patience. Jormin glows again in “Dark And Slow,” in which trumpeter Arve Henriksen exhales his way through those oaken walls with ease. Like a heartbeat made manifest, “In Degrees” emotes in the name of survival and ends with a satisfying growl.

Because Balke is never one for being longwinded, at nearly eight minutes “Curve” might seem gargantuan were it not for the smoothness of its contours. This is such a visual track, with streets and pedestrians clearly discernible through the fog. The looping “Circular” is a steady but varied groove, Kleive leading all the way. Trumpet and violin double one another in “Vertical,” a short track that feels like a scene in a novel you once read and forgot about. “Encoded” sports an upbeat piano trio vibe. And just as there is nothing cryptic about it, neither is “Elusive Song” difficult to grasp. You can hear the wiping of strings along the piano’s edges, and the trumpet’s swan song touching a hand to the window.

It’s just as well that the seventh track of Solarized, “Linear,” should be left out, for there is nothing linear about the goings on documented here. Balke and his cohorts are champions of neglected songs, and this set ensures those songs will never be neglected again.

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