Tone Audio #23



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Jon Balke CD Review  


         Jon Balke — Siwan (ECM)


By Anne Farnsworth

What’s a good, working definition of World Music? How about a Norwegian jazz pianist who leads a Baroque orchestra playing Arabic music behind a Moroccan vocalist singing the works of ancient Andalusian poets? Oh, and she sings in Spanish and Aljamiado, a Latin-Arabic hybrid spoken in medieval Andalusia.

Jon Balke, the Norwegian in question, is a wildly creative composer with a rich and varied musical palette.  His colleagues are equally well schooled in what American trumpeter Jon Hassell calls the ‘fourth world - a music without borders’. Algerian violinist Kheir Eddine M'Kachiche playing microtonal magams (similar to Indian classical ragas) on a European instrument is just one example of the culture clash on this amazing release. The harpsichord accompaniment in the recitative style of early Baroque composition is another.

Singer Amina Alaoui researched the poets, setting their work to music.  Southern Spain in the Middle Ages was a unique amalgam of Moorish and European culture, a peaceful meeting point of Christian, Arabic and Jewish scholars. While the rest of Europe was burning books and heretics, this tiny oasis’ scientific and artistic achievement and religious tolerance seem like a fairy tale compared to our current situation. The capsule bios she writes in the liner notes for each poet give a fascinating glimpse into this lost world. Lovelorn, imprisoned or overtaken with religious ecstasy, their words may be lost in translation but the joy and pain she communicates with her extraordinary voice transcends language.

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