Pianist Balke’s goal in forming the Magnetic North Orchestra in 1992
was to create a new music drawing upon not only the jazz tradition but
also contemporary composition and various world-musics – especially
North and West African. He wanted his writing to stay away from any
hint of crossover or fusion, being more of a pulsating chamber music.
The overall mood of this, the orchestra’s third ECM album, is of a
balance between composed and improvised music in a cool, reticent sort
of ascetic style that one can easily imagine is being recorded in an
Oslo studio in the wee hours of the long Northern night (because most
such ECM albums are done that way). During its 13-year history the
orchestra had expanded to an ensemble dubbed Grand Magnetic, with added
14-piece string section and percussion. The present reduced octet has
two percussionists and a string trio consisting of two violins and
string bass. The string players use Baroque tunings, down one half
tone. Only Balke himself and trumpeter/vocalist Per Jørgensen remain
from the original band. The latter’s vocalise interjections become
another unusual instrument in the ensemble sound. Reed player Fredrik
Lundin rounds out the octet.
Balke toured widely with a West African Afro-jazz ensemble in the 70s
and selected his two drummers with contrasting styles – one whose
arsenal includes African talking drums and djembes, and another from
the European loft jazz scene. The keyboardist’s angular and edgy piano
lines snake thru the spare orchestral texture put up by the rest of the
ensemble. The tracks are mostly quite short, relieving the less tonal
tones from overstaying their welcome. I could imagine listening to this
cooling disc on one of those hot summer nights.
Tracks: Machinery, Nutating, Sink, Columns, Deep, In Patches, Ondular,
Downslope, Rivers, Climb, Inside, And On, The Drive, Falling.
– John Henry