Friday, May 27, 2016

Jon Balke, Warp

Norwegian artist Jon Balke comes through with a thoughtful album of piano improvisations that have as backdrops electronic-synth and field recording sound images with 16 segments that give us a reflective, open aura. This on his latest, Warp (ECM 2444).

You might say that there is some kinship of the music here with the mature Cecil Taylor as piano soloist, in that there is sometimes a periodicity in the declamatory thematic element of a series of harmonic sequences or melodic motifs that are built upon, but on the other hand Balke does not have the same expression level of Mr. Taylor in full fettle. This is more subdued throughout and less inclined toward scatter and dissonant climaxes.

So it is no doubt better to put that aside and listen with fresh ears. You may also on occasion pick up on the kind of cantabile phrasings and rhythmic push favored by Keith Jarrett. Again, though, Balke goes his own way in the end.

What we do have on this album are some rather lyric, nicely wrought modernisms that respond to the harmonic ambience, the rhythmic pulsations or the acoustic panoramas of the "sound images" with pointed spontaneity. There are also some folkish, even hardanger-fiddle-reminiscent moments that serve to catapult Balke into his own special musical world, a little melancholy at times, but insistently personal and developmental.

Is this jazz? Should you care? Its improvisational and harmonically-melodically modulatory qualities mark it as jazz. But there are new music elements, too. No, it in the end does not matter so much as the pleasure you should get from the experience. It may not delve much into strictly jazz vocabulary, but that has something to do with the newness of it.

It is very imaginative piano that marks Jon Balke as very inventive, creative and conceptually exciting. If you are feeling adventurous, by all means get this and let it fill you with your own sound images. Recommended!

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