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Jon Balke
"Book of Velocities"

(ECM)
Book of Velocities

Review by Brad Walseth

Norwegian pianist Jon Balke has been at the forefront of the European composed and improvised music scene for decades playing with Arild Andersenís group, before co-founding Maqualero, forming Oslo 13 and the Magnetic North Orchestra, which he still leads. He also is a member of the percussion group Batagraf. "Book of Velocities" is his first solo piano recording, and it is strikingly unlike most other solo piano albums.

Rather than allowing preconceived melodies to strongly influence the structures, Balke has created a series of 19 short pieces that function as a book of sorts. Each "chapter" is an exploration of "velocities" rather than a "song" as usually described. Despite this seemingly unmusical starting point, the music is surprisingly listenable. Using the entire piano, including struck strings, and foreign objects inserted in the pianos, Balke explores the area where rhythms, textures and space overlap, divide and recede.

The closest companion work I can find to Balkeís "Book" is Paul Bley's recordings, but Balke may be even more preoccupied with stretching the boundaries of improvised music into the nearly unrecognizable. There is melody, much of it quite beautiful, but it is both nebulous and timeless. In the end, this book is well worth opening, as the meditative passages tend to resonate and create an appealingly calm and contemplative atmosphere where the mind connects the pieces of sound and spaces and converts them into a kind of natural music, despite the perceived lack of formal structure we generally believe to be a requirement.

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