Norwegian keyboardist Jon Balke started Batagraf as something like an informal drum circle. Leaving his keys in favor of percussion, Balke and drummers Kenneth Ekornes, Harald Skullerud, Helge Andreas Norbakken and Ingar Zach played music just for the fun of it, not with concerts and recordings in mind. But when the collective brought in bata drums—the Nigerian-Cuban instrument so important to Yoruba religion—they saw a real project start to develop.
Batas are used to communicate poems and prayers in Yoruba spiritual ceremonies, and on Statements Balke combines the drums with a number of voices, including those of the great jazz and art-music singers Solveig Slettahjell and Sidsel Endresen, along with minimalist keyboardists and subtle sound tweaking from the leader. Arve Henriksen, who possesses a ghostly vox of his own, sticks to processed trumpet, and Frode Nymo joins him on alto sax.
But whatever elements have been added in postproduction, Statements is fundamentally a drum-and-voice record, recalling John Hassell’s Fourth World music and the performance-art songs of Laurie Anderson. The 12 ethno-electro tracks have an otherworldly sound to them, with odd sonic details popping out of the mix like spirits conjured by a shaman.