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Jon Balke: Batagraf

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With its cool, intoxicating blend of West African drumming, acoustic jazz, electronic pop and sung and spoken poetry, Batagraf is one of ECM’s more idiosyncratic groups. Where else are you going to hear a Norwegian poet declaiming (in Norwegian) over sabar and djembe? “Cry out/Have no fear/Of what is most fearful,” exhorts Torgeir Rebolledo Pedersen, a longtime collaborator of keyboardist Jon Balke’s. “For I, I am the wind calmer/Shall quieten the winds.”

Pedersen’s translated utterances aside, the winds are mostly calm on Say and Play, the first Batagraf album since its 2006 ECM debut, Statements. A lyrical player, Balke (Magnetic North Orchestra, Oslo 13, Siwan) alternates between acoustic piano with a percussive bent and atmospheric synth effects. The byplay between Helge Andreas Norbakken (an associate of Jon Hassell’s) on the West African drums and Erland Dahlen (a member of Nils Petter Molvær’s group) on traps is cozy, seductive and melodic: The talking drums sing.

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