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Die Titel von „Discourses“ sind von programmatischer Strenge – the certainties, the suspension, the polarities usw. – und weisen,  Jon Balke zufolge, auf eine immer mehr aus den Fugen geratene politische Rhetorik der Ausgrenzung und  Unversöhnlichkeit. Tatsächlich haben die manchmal zögerlichen, eruptiven, Stille überspielenden Intonationen der menschlichen Sprache spezielle Rhythmisierungen  des Klavierspiels mit auf den Weg gebracht. Dabei sind diese, von allerlei Geräusch angereicherten, sich gleichsam „angreifbar“ machenden, Pianoklänge von jeder epischen Ausschmückung befreit. Dennoch erzeugen all diese prägnanten Stücke, wundersam paradox, einen verblüffend eleganten, kohärenten Spielfluss. 



Facing You is one of the most important recordings in contemporary jazz for several reasons, aside from being beautifully conceived and executed by pianist Keith Jarrett. It is a hallmark recording of solo piano in any discipline, a signature piece in the early ECM label discography, a distinct departure from mainstream jazz, a breakthrough for Jarrett, and a studio prelude for his most famous solo project to follow, The Köln Concert. Often meditative, richly melodic, inventive, and introspective beyond compare, Jarrett expresses his soul in tailored tones that set standards for not only this kind of jazz, but music that would serve him and his fans in good stead onward. In this program of all originals, which sound spontaneously improvised with certain pretexts and motifs as springboards, the rhapsodic „Ritooria,“ 4/4 love/spirit song „Lalene,“ and song for family and life „My Lady; My Child“ firmly establish Jarrett’s heartfelt and thoughtful approach. „Vapallia“ cements the thematic, seemingly effortless, lighter — but never tame — aesthetic. „Starbright“ is an easy-paced two-step tune signifying fully Jarrett’s personalized stance. Straddling a more jagged, angular, and free edge, the pianist evokes the influence of Paul Bley during „Semblence“ (sic). But it is the opening selection, an extended ten-minute opus titled „In Front,“ that truly showcases Jarrett at his playful best — a timeless, modal, direct, and bright delight. A remarkable effort that reveals more and more with each listen, this recording has stood the test of time, and is unquestionably a Top Three recording in Keith Jarrett’s long and storied career.

Michael G. Nastos, allmusic


Sie musste fliehen vor einem gnadenlosen Feuer in Kalifornien, verlor so vieles, und ging zurück nach Japan. Verblüfft war sie von anderen Dingen, etwa davon, dass ihr Klavieralbum von 1987 neu entdeckt wurde. Eines von vier Pianoalben, die jüngst herausgekommen sind, oder, in einem Falle, kurz vor der Veröffentlichung stehen. Und die einen besonderen Platz einnehmen in den kommenden „Klanghorizonten“. Neben dem von Yumiko, das entweder in meiner „Sylt-Robinsonade“ auftauchen wird, am 20. Juni, oder in der „etwas anderen Klavierstunde“ der gleichen Radionacht, gewiss auch die so reichhaltigen Klaviermusiken von Benjamin Moussay (wieso gefällt mir das Cover so sehr, leerer kann es ja kaum sein, wahrscheinlich deshalb), sowie (mit ausführlichen Interviewpassagen ausgestattet) Ulrike Haage und Jon Balke. Man wird dort, am Rande, etwas von ausgestopften Eisbären hören, auch von den Halluzinationen, die ein Wasserfall auslösen kann. Und von jeder Menge Kaffee aus Plastikbechern.

Discourses is Jon Balke‘s third solo piano album. With the second one, the wonderfully seductive Warp, sound processing & sound design enter the field – a subtile undermining of the piano‘s purity. The Norwegian composer (b. 1955)  is a member of the „ECM family“ since the early years, with his first appearance on Arild Andersen‘s album Clouds In My Head (1974). Let‘s skip his broad range of works as a leader since the days of Nonsentration (1991) and come to the here and now. When I first heard the new album, I immediately sensed that it was not Jon‘s idea to simply add more colours to the sensual palette of Warp. I felt urgency, anger, ruptures. There is something faithful though, a sense of mystery wrapped around melodic figures. Discourses is a very special record.



Do you agree when I say, Discourses is the „dark sister“ of Warp? It is a very dense work.


I sincerely don´t want to direct how people hear this album, and I am happy to hear totally different and opposite interpretations of the music. But, yes, it is connected to Warp and also to Book of Velocitites (2007) in the sense that it explores the same situation, which is the solo artist and the surroundings (Book of V playing to an empty room, Warp playing to a world that starts to respond). And then I have tried to make Discourses a more focused album than the previous two, in the sense that it explores a smaller field of dynamics and tonal concepts. More focus on micro-details. So a detour into a smaller space, in a way.


Of course in these days new albums are often linked with Covid 19. Thus, nearly automatically, when looking at the cover, I imagined some early social distancing exercise. When listening to the album I had the impression of a kind of fight going on between uncompromised self-expression and a threatening counter-force of some kind. Am I wrong?


No, you are right, absolutely. I am concerned with society and political developments, and do not make music in a vacuum. And, since this music had language and rhetoric as direct inspiration, the music is a reaction to the deterioration of language in political discourse. In a way the Covid crisis highlights this even more, with the desperate press conferences we see too often by leaders who have made catastrophical choices all the way into this disaster. I took the cover photo on a morning square in Malmo, Sweden, and made a series of the same theme that I the crossfaded with each other into a slow-mo movie, because the light was good and the people moving isolated in their own world.


The new album is somehow inspired by language, but words themselves are absent.


I am attracted to the music of language in rhetoric, and dayly speech: how we use tonality and flexible, non-metric rhythm to express as precisely as possible what we want to say. We pause, we rush, we punctuate, we climb in pitch. Also how we make a statement, debates it, argue for it, return to it, conclude. The solo speech is a good school for solo piano playing.

Discourses will be released tomorrow. How do all these strange sounds care for additional suspense without interrupting the flow of listening? What has been the role of producer Manfred Eicher in the final mix? How come this „smaller space“ is opening up again and again? You can hear other parts of my interview with Jon Balke during the radio night of „Klanghorizonte“ on June 20, and as part of the „Jazz Facts“ on July 5 (Deutschlandfunk).


Es kann ja immer etwas dazwischen kommen, aber momentan sieht es so aus, dass meine nächste Ausgabe der der Radionacht Klanghorizonte im Deutschlandfunk eine spezielle wird: „Produced by Manfred Eicher – fünf Jahrzehnte ECM in fünf Stunden“. Das Tempo dieser Reise durch die Dekaden wird trotz der „mission impossible“ kein eiliges sein. Ob ich Manfred Eicher noch treffen werde im Vorfeld, ist unklar. Auf jeden Fall konnte ich zwei Musiker für die Sendung gewinnen, die seit ziemlich früher Zeit auf unterschiedliche Art mit dem Label verbunden sind. Steve Tibbetts wählt jeweils eine seiner Lieblingsplatten aus den „Siebzigern“, „Achtzigern“ und „Neunzigern“ aus, Jon Balke macht das mit den „Neunzigern“, „Nullern“, und „Zehnern“. Beide werden etwas zu diesen Werken erzählen, Steve wird sich dazu wohl in seinem Studio in St. Paul ein paar ruhige Minuten nehmen, Jon ist derzeit in Kompositionsarbeiten versunken, wird aber spätestens in Venedig, wo er demnächst auftritt, morgens auf einem Hotelbalkon, genug Musse haben, seine kleinen Stories beizusteuern. Das alles in der Nacht von Freitag auf Samstag, im Deutschlandfunk, am 17. August. Vielleicht kommt auch noch der eineoder andere Überraschungsgast hinzu. Natürlich wird von beiden auch etwas zu hören sein, spätestens in der letzten Stunde – Jon Balkes „WARP“ (2016) und Steve Tibbetts‘ „LIFE OF“ (2018) sind zwei fantastische Alben.



Jon Balke’s latest Batagraf album is a bit different from others I’ve heard from this loose knit musical collective, conceived some 15 years ago. The albums have always featured world music influences with an emphasis on percussion, and in that regard this one is no different, but whereas the ECM albums were looser compositionally and more texture oriented, this Jazzland recording focuses on tighter, shorter compositions, and even has a few songs with lyrics.

Jon Balke, Helge Andreas Norbakken and Snorre Bjerck are still the core members, but they have added a few remarkable guests here, which include Mathias Eick on trumpet and Trygve Seim on sax. 

The album is a very mixed bag. The opening track, Tanuka, reminded me of Weather Report, with its folky African roots, that is, if Eberhard Weber helped write it. There’s another song that is totally homage to Bobby McFerrin’s work, particularly Medicine Man. Then there are the gauzy vocals of Emilie Stoesen Christensen, Ingeborg Marie Mohn, and Julia Witek, who together with Balke’s chameleon-like writing, obliquely bring to mind tracks off of Eberhard Weber’s classic Fluid Rustle. On the other hand, there’s the surprisingly quirky indie vibe of “A Roof, a Floor”, that sweetly yet insistently implores a friend/partner to “Make some room for me, make some space so I can go to sleep. Don’t need much, just a place where I can dream.”  From the Nordic chorale-like creaminess of  the title track to the wild abandonment of Gleamer, there’s a broad palette of moods to explore.

But ultimately, besides the wonderfully fresh and playful writing, it’s the ambience and bold mix that are the real stars here. The percussion is daringly placed very upfront, and the panning is often quite extreme, making for a very wide stereo image, making it a lot of fun to listen to on headphones.

This is an album that intrigues and seduces- it’s total ear candy. The only downside is that at 38 minutes, it leaves you wanting more. So, in light of that, I just spin it again. It grows on you-quietly addicting stuff.


Jon Balke (percussion and keyboards)

Helge Andreas Norbakken and Snorre Bjerck (percussion)

Emilie Stoesen Christensen, Ingeborg Marie Mohn, and Julia Witek (voices)

Mathias Eick (trumpet)

Trygve Seim (saxophones).


1. Brian Eno: The Ship
2. David Bowie: Blackstar
3. Vijay Iyer & Wadada Leo Smith: A Cosmic Rhythm With Each Stroke
4. Jon Balke: Warp
5. Matmos: Ultimate Care II
6. Naqsh Duo: Narrante
7. Van Morrison: It’s Too Late To Stop Now, Vol. II, III & IV
8. Paul Simon: Stranger To Stranger
9. Sturgill Simpson: A Sailor’s Guide To Earth
10. Tindersticks: The Waiting Room
11. Thomas Köner: Tiento de la Luz
12. P. J. Harvey: The Hope Six Demolition Project
13. Darren Hayman: Thankful Villages Vol. 1
14. Jack DeJohnette, Ravi Coltrane, Matthew Garrison: In Movement
15. Glenn Jones: Fleeting*
*  … this will be one of my all time favourite guitar solo albums!



Next Friday, on Feb. 12th, Warp will be released. Carefully handled sonics, field recordings, voices (placed the the middle-, back- and back-back-ground) extend the format of the pure solo album. Highly concentrated, strangely laid back at the same time. Accessible and experimental. Warp is an instruction-free manual for getting yourself lost in. And the world keeps knocking on the door.

How did the different strands of ideas come together to create one of 2016’s most captivating „piano & beyond“-albums? It took some time after having started with initial recordings in Oslo. „I will definitely perform Warp live, the first is in Copenhagen on the day of its release. Another one at the Oslo Jazz festival in August, I hope a lot more also. I control the sound layers myself, using very simple and intuitive tools.“




Michael Engelbrecht: What was the basic idea that triggered „Warp“ as a melange of solo piano composition and all the other things and sounds surrounding the Steinway?


Jon Balke: I think the starting point was an abstract idea about making an architecture of sound: walls, curved spaces, light and darkness, actually a question: can this be done? Can we experience sound as a physical environment? And then as I developed my piano playing in paralell. I wanted to try to place the piano inside these imaginary spaces. I am still not sure if I achieved what I wanted, but the process is very intriguing and interesting. And it continues. It has also led to my collaboration with Bjarte Eike and his ensemble, called “the image of melancholy” where I make sonic spaces around live performances of renaissance music.


Michael: What kind of sonic spaces?


Jon: I have used a mixture of actual instrument sounds from his ensemble, filtered and processed, plus layers of composed reverberations that are in accordance with the different pieces they play.


Michael: Has there been an inspiration by other recordings where pianists have surrounded their piano or keyboard music with electronic spheres, natural sounds @ samples?


Jon: Actually I have not been researching by listening to other composers or producers. I had this idea in my head and I have just gone for exploring that. Of course there are many projects with electroaccoustic combinations in music history, so in that sense Warp is in a tradition. But my starting point and inspiration has been an imagination.


Michael: There is one „groove track“ called „Shibboleth“. Sounds Jewish, the word. Is there, in the electronic keyboard figure a short reminder of Joe Zawinul, soundwise. He used some field recordings on his first solo album, and sometimes for „Weather Report“, too …


Jon: I think „Shibboleth“ is actually Hebrew, yes. But it means a slogan or something special that identifies something or someone. Could be special way of dressing up also. I guess it´s sort of iconic for me to dive into this kind of rhythmic textures. I know it is not „modern“, but … I cant help it :-) Hence the title. I was not concious of any Zawinul reference, but of course he is in my blood system so … .


Michael: „Warp“ ist surely a road not taken before in the way it sounds. There is the piano being strictly (most of the time) in the foreground, center stage, the crystalline sound, and then the music is surrounded by a second or third layer – something quiet or „far away“. What was the thrill?


Jon: It is fascinating to shape dimensions in sound. We are acually the first humans who have the possibility to warp and shape sound in this manner, by using technology previously not available, or seriously degraded by unwanted noise and problems. Also, I guess, as the project developed, it started to mean more than just the sound idea in itself. The title refers to the relation between the artist in his or her bubble of esthetic values and choices, as opposed to the external reality of the world of cars and rivers, birds and business. The artist has a warped image of the world and the world has a warped image of the artist. We are living in very turbulent times, and the musician isolated with his piano is starting to seem like an impossibility.




Michael: Let’s stay in the impossible for a while. As a listener you tend to try (at first) to identify the sources: the first „noise“ on the record – carefully repeated during the album – sounds like someone playing with the pages of a book, the sound of it. The „listening area“ is extended, an open field beyond the habit of just concentrating on the piano …


Jon: That is in fact what I wanted to achieve, to open up the space or reverb of the piano sound and stretch it out to the world and the sounds in it. You are right about the first sounds, they are recordings of paper shuffling that are warped in the stereo image. I like to think of the listener attaching their own associations to the sounds. It is not important what the sounds really are, I am more interested in the impression on the listener.


Michael: There is this track „This is the movie“. There is a distant electronic sound, you’re playing a soft melodic phrase, a reminder „film music“, more Claude Lelouch than one for Claude Chabrol …


Jon: That title is actually from a text by Sidsel Endresen. Many of the tracks are based on songs or tunes I have made, to text or just instrumental tunes. But I dont play these songs on Warp, I just use them as a reference buried deep down in the mix. This helps me to find structure in the material.


Michael: Did some movies or cinematic „moods“ spring to mind in the long process of giving „Warp“ its last shape?


Jon: Music is always visual for me. I can´t really pinpoint any clear references to movies or images in Warp, but I “see” the spaces and the piano sound as abstract shapes and colors.


Michael: A piano solo album normally takes the time it takes to record it. But on this one, recording the piano pieces had only been one step. You were in that house in the mountains with Audun Kleive adding sounds & atmosheres to the piano tracks. The mixing in Lugano with Manfred Eicher, the final sequencing. A long journey …


Jon: I had an initial stage of recording of soundscapes and voices (with the vocalists) with the clear intention of having all this sound very deep and far around the piano. In the first recording of piano in Rainbow studio, playing on top of the imported soundscapes, I actually had quite a struggle to feel free in this landscape, so I did another pass just playing solo piano and imagining the soundscapes. Then I went home and actually ended up mixing these two approaches. Next we sat down, Audun Kleive and me, and actually shaped (warped) the sounds around the piano sound, using different software tools like Ircams Spat and others, working with spatialisation and imaging.




Michael: Interesting, too, the way, you’re working with a fabric of voices. There is choir-like humming, purely instrumental; there is an unusual take on the „pop song“-format with the vocals in the background; there are the quite hidden „airport announcements“. Quite a „theatre of voices“!


Jon: We had actually recorded a lot more singing with Mattis and Wenche, but this felt too imposing in this context, so I kept the more abstract remnants of the recordings. I might release an album of songs later with the actual recordings. But, yes I like to work with voices as colors. If text and melodies become too present, they would shift the focus of this project very fast.


Michael: It would be very interesting to compare the „pure solo version“ against the final work. I think they both would be rewarding listening experiences, but with the adding of all the other elements „Warp“ becomes a different, surely not less „organic beast“…


Jon: I guess that this approaches the psychological phonomenon where you, if you sit near a waterfall, start to hear voices speaking and singing inside the water. If someone has listened to Warp for a while and then heard the piano track alone, they would still hear the soundscapes in the reverberation of the piano, maybe?


Michael: For example, some of the „sounds“ of „Warp“ adopt the role of „leitmotifs“. It’s like returning to a room that has meanwhile changed its colour. That would fit your intention of experiencing sound as a physical environment, wouldn’t it?


Jon: That is a nice way of putting it.


Michael: You are speaking of using the non-musical elements as „remnants“. Shadows of the real world, so to speak. You deliberately treat, for example, these „airport announcements“ making them nearly unrecognizable. The real world is not documented like neo-realism. It’s fragmented, dreamlike, loses its urgency.


Jon: I guess, since you mentioned the movie association earlier, that this might be a way of relating to the sounds of the world and the piano as an instrument in the direction that for instance Tarkovskij relates to the visual media. The world is strange and alien, but also miracolous and beautiful. And it is my role as an artist to go on exploring it, I believe.

2016 28 Jan

February, a pleasure!

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Sometimes it is the first light of a cold winter day, sun rays entering the sleeping room, sometimes it is a kiss in the morning, or the last picture of a dream. It may be the first sound of a record, or the first sentence of a thrilling novel. It may be the first time in your life you hear a beautiful record from the 70’s (and you’re asking yourself: why the fuck did it take so long?). Or it is a little philosophical essay full of fine observations that trigger unforeseen thoughts.

„As always“, says Norwegian pianist Jon Balke, „the more you explore and discover, the further you want to go, and things are not so simple anymore. It’s a very interesting process.“ On Feb. 12th, his new solo album Warp will be released, and according to the rules of probability, Gregs, Joey, Rosato and Michael will be listening to that work of excellence on the same weekend.

What begins as a gently exploratory solo piano album gradually acquires an almost hallucinatory aspect. Warp will surely receive great reviews in international music magazines, online and print. The mix of piano and carefully constructed sound images is a peculiar delight. What are the images about? Is it the infamous „cinematic“ element, or much more subliminal?

I digress: in February, you’ll be entering a time capsule here: a collection of antiques & curiosities, of old black and white movies, a late echo of the Rastafari movement in the hills of Jamaica, 50’s noir (an encounter with Richard Widmark), 60’s psychedelia with young Robert Wyatt, 70’s praise of birdsong (Bert Jansch). Further explorations of „minimal winter music“. Time for the unexpected.



Jokleba ist das Trio des Pianisten Jon Balke, des Trompeters und Sängers Per Jorgensen sowie des Trommlers und Elektronikers Audun Kleive. Vor Beginn ihrer Europatournee, die morgen in Bristol endet, schrieb mir Jon Balke folgende Mail über das verstörende und widerspenstige Werk eines bereits seit fünfzehn Jahren existierenden Trios:

“Sämtliche Stücke von Outland entstanden aus einem Zustand der Fassungslosigkeit über den Zustand der Welt, der, während unserer Aufnahmen, in direkten Wahnsinn umschlug. Wir nahmen OUTLAND im Frühjahr auf, als all die schrecklichen Dinge aus der Ukraine und Syrien zu uns drangen, und das Barbarentum der islamischen Terrorbrigaden: uns kam es so vor, als würden wir kollektivem Irrsinn direkt ins Auge schauen. Wir haben kein Interesse daran, Programmmusik zu machen, aber diese Realitäten spiegelten sich im Herausströmen der Sounds. Wir versuchten, die Infomationsstücke zu sortieren, mit denen wir gefüttert wurden, und fortlaufend wurden wir von anderen Dingen abgelenkt. Auf die gleiche Weise wird die Klarheit in der Musik, ihr Puls, jedem Mitspieler in kleinsten informationseinheiten angeboten, dabei aber ständig auseinander gerissen von plötzlichen Strömungen paralleler oder gegenläufiger Information. Das Album ist kein Karriereschritt in eine neue Richtung, es ist ein direktes Dokument der Energien, die im Frühjahr 2014 zwischen uns flossen.“

Mit einer Spielweise, die allen Regeln eines groovefreudigen Jazz widerspricht, mit bizarren Sounds, und einer Palette zwischen abgrundtief brüchiger Melancholie und gespenstisch eruptivem Furor ist Jokleba eine so aufregende wie widerspenstige Produktion gelungen: in diesem Jazz fliegen Fetzen, stolpern Rhythmen – und auch wenn Balke, Jorgensen und Kleive auf der Bühne nicht in exotisch Masken schlüpfen, sind gewisse Parallelen zu einigen Stilelementen des frühen Art Ensemble of Chicago alles andere als weit hergeholt. Bei den Chicagoer Pionieren wie bei den drei Norwegern geht es auch da, wo die Musik, surreal, wild, unberechenbar daherkommt, darum, eigene Ideen nicht zu lange in sicheren Zonen zu dulden. Jokleba trauen ihren Kontrasten und Brechungen zurecht emotionale Durchschlagskraft zu: gerade in solch rauen, explosiven energiefeldern gewinnen lyrische Momente eine besondere Strahlkraft (jenseits des gepflegten, guten Tons).

Wenn sich laut Jon Balke bei „Outland“ die Musik nicht zuletzt „um den Verstand dreht, wenn er dabei ist, verloren zu gehen“ – ein Titel lässt den Kinoklassiker „Einer flog über das Kuckucksnest“ anklingen – dann handelt das Album eben nicht nur von der Wut über die Schräglage der Welt anno 2014. Mit OUTLAND legt das Trio das Potential offen, dass der Jazz auch da entfalten kann, wo einzelne seiner sogenannten gesicherten Bestandteile zu kollabieren drohen. Diese Arbeit verlangt vollkommene Konzentration und belohnt sie mit einem nur zu Anfang verwirrenden Klangfarbentheater, mit aufblitzendenden, abtauchenden Ideen der atemraubenden Art, mit lerztlich kinderleichten Drahtseilakten. Der Jazz braucht wueder mehr Chaosforschung, Jokleba bietet dazu ein paar unvergessliche Lektionen. Wehe, wer jetzt an Free Jazz denkt.

Zum Ende des Jahres erscheinen bei ECM einige umwerfende Alben: Keith Jarrett, Charlie Haden und Paul Motian spielen in Hamburg 1972 wie entfesselt (jetzt wird das lang kursierende Bootleg, klanglich überarbeitet, offiziell!), es ist nicht mehr lange hin bis zum „Köln Concert“, und als ich gestern in der Jazzredaktion das erste zwölf Minuten lange Stück des Doppelalbums „Souvenance“ von Anouar Brahem hörte, versuchte ich erst gar nicht, aus dem Staunen herauszukommen. Die Streicher kamen nicht aus Hollywood. Und so ein Cover hat man bei dem Tunesier auch noch nie gesehen: ihn liessen die Unruhen und Gewalttätigkeiten im eigenen Land nicht kalt und scheinen den Stücken eine dunklere Tönung mit auf den Weg zu geben, in der ersten Komposition jedenfalls werden manche Sounds in freier Jazzmanier, von Kontrabass und Blasinstrument, angerissen, kurz in den Raum geworfen: die Violinen besänftigen nicht.

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