on life, music etc beyond mainstream

2022 23 Mrz

For example, Mr. Jon Balke

von: Michael Engelbrecht Filed under: Blog | TB | Comments off


Yesterday, Jon Balke was on board of „The Jon Hassell Experience“ in Oslo. Playing piano and a hand drum, and wearing a hat. Made me think back of the time I was on Lanzarote playing his first Siwan album all the time in my car (along with The National‘s „High Violet“) with a stellar cast of musicians, including Jon Hassell, Amina Alaoui – and Helge  Norbakken. And another good news. The third installation of Jon Balke Siwan, „HAFLA“ will be released by the end of April, on ECM, and it is simply another mind blower! Look at the photo, this label is not strictly known for such a decent quantum of „action“ on their covers! You don‘t have to be a prophet to know there will be rave reviews, and I will write one of them. Here comes an old story.


It all started when I popped the CD into my player on the way between Arrecife and El Golfo. 23 degrees celsius, late in the afternoon, and then a lonely „wow“ popping up from my lips when the first two tracks of Jon Balke’s „Siwan“ were over. I have known the music of the pianist for a long time, who used to play with „Masqualero“, mixed „northern kind of fusion“ with African vibes and „Oslo 13“, and finally showed ways of combining New Music, Jazz and Africa without academic art cramp & commonplace sounds with his „Magnetic North Orchestra“.

SIWAN is Jon Balke’s adventurous attempt to make parallels audible between early music from Europe (Baroque), al-Andalusian traditions (9th to 15th centuries) and the art of modern improvisation. For this, the pianist (born 1955), has the perfect companions: Jon Hassell, violinist Kheir Eddine M-Kachiche, Helge Norbakken, a Norwegian ensemble with accomplished connoisseurs of the Baroque and – above all – the singer Amina Alaoui from Morocco!

How free-spirited the Muslim culture and science was at a point in history, can be brought to light in old texts and poems building the foundation of tbis album.  With this fantasy, Jon Balke recalls an era that was mercilessly persecuted by the Inquisition – the „end of the story“ was that this permissive Muslim intellectual world (far from the fundamentalists who set the tone today) is hardly remembered nowadays. Yet their influence, for example on the Renaissance, was immense; the libraries of Cordoba hoarded unparalleled treasures of knowledge.

The music of SIWAN always remains melodic, even when it sets off a firework of rhythmic energy or explores individual fine spheres without haste. The interplay between the spacey voice of the Moroccan and the „snake charmer sound“ of Jon Hassell is captivating. The reflections between Arabic and baroque figures open up the space even more. Nit realy surprising enough, Jon Balke is NOT playing with that all too simple „postmodern trickery“: SIWAN is modern, ancient, fabulous, elevating, overflowing, transparent.

When I arrived in El Golfo with the car – I had just finished  listening (and looking at those infamous volcanic cliffs).  I took a seat in a fish restaurant. And then one of those strange coincidences happened when you hear the right music at the right time in the right place: I read the enclosed lyrics by SIWAN (printed in Arabic and English) and had to smile so much when my eyes fastened on the following lines:


“ A serene evening
We spent it drinking wine.
The sun, going down,
Lays its cheek against the earth, to rest … „


Well, I was alone, with  a glass of white wine on my table, and that orange ball over the horizon just preparing for its first-class „west coast“ setting. I stayed and stayed until a cool breeze entered the scenery, got into the car and put SIWAN on again. The music also works in Central Europe, I found out later. Everywhere where „free spirits“ dwell … incredibly good music. 

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