Jon Balke / Siwan: Hafla

The Norwegian pianist's new album may only be distantly related to jazz but like that music it marks a confluence of various influences


As those who have read Balke on aspects of Nordic music, in the 2007 Horizons Touched: The Music Of ECM, will know, the Norwegian pianist, composer and band-leader has a mind as literate as it is alert and penetrating.

He also has one of the most distinctive discographies of recent decades. It embraces solo piano (e.g., the recent and excellent Discourses) as well as all sorts of small groups (e.g., the Masqualero quintet co-led by Arild Andersen and Jon Christensen) and various larger aggregations, the last including the wonderful Magnetic North ensemble. One of Balke’s most ambitious projects has been the Siwan ensemble which he began in 2007.

The play of diverse crosscurrents, giving birth to a new confluence of possibilities in matters of sound, rhythm and creative expression, is central to both the origins and the development of jazz. It is no less key to Balke’s sui generis albeit distantly jazz-flecked Siwan concept. Among other things, “siwan” means “balance” and the music of Siwan balances and blends a now poised, now flowing range of intimately turned song and yearning utterance with an intricate yet openly spaced rhythmic and melodic interplay of stringed instruments, keyboards and percussion, drawing on Andalusian, North African and European poetics (the last featuring baroque elements, especially). Sample, here, the mysterious “suspended” figures of the opening Tarraquab, the rhythmically strong and pushing Visita and the deeply reflective Is There No Way.

Hafla is the third Siwan album. It builds on and develops the qualities of both the eponymous debut disc of 2009 – which featured, a.o., the Granada-domiciled Moroccan vocalist Amina Alaoui and “fourth world” trumpeter Jon Hassell – and Hahnou Houm from 2017, with, a.o. Algerian vocalist Mona Boutchebak, kemence master Derya Turkan, Norwegian percussionist Helge Norbakken and his compatriot, the baroque violinist Bjarte Eike, leader of the Barokksolistene. All appear on Hafla – a superb album which, like the previous Siwan releases, will richly repay close attention from anyone with open ears and mind.

Tarraquab; Enamorado De Jupiter; Mirada Furtiva; La Estrella Fugaz; Arrihu Aqwadu Ma Yakuna Li-Annaha; Dialogo En La Noche; Linea Oscura; Saeta; Uquallibu; Wadadtu; Visita; Is There No Way (45.29)
Balke (kyb, elec, tombak); Mona Boutchebak (v, kwitra); Derya Turkan (kemence); Bjarte Eike (baroque vn, leader); Helge Norbakken (pc); Pedram Khavar Zamini (tombak); Per Buhre (v, vla); Barokksolistene: Peter Spissky, Louise Gorm, Arsema Asghodon (vn); Torbjörn Köhl, Mikkel Schreiber (vla); Mime Yamahiro Brinkmann, Judith-Maria Blomsterberg (clo); Johannes Lundberg (b). Copenhagen May/June 2021.
ECM 4537594