No doubt, pianist and composer Jon Balke has always been interested in Africa. Along with singer Amina Alaoui from Marocco (now living in Granada), master violinist Kheir Edine K’Hachiche, a Norwegian ensemble of Early Music speicialists and master trumpet player Jon Hassell, Balke has created a bold fantasy: he’s recurring on a dead end of history, when the period of Al-Andalous came to an end in 1492. Peaceful coexistence between Muslims, Christians and Jews was destroyed by intolerance and those “witch hunters” every period knows too well.
Now, Balke asked himself, how would the music sound when the fruitful dialogue oft arts and sciences had been continued. How would arabic music sound in melange with baroque textures and modern improvisation? Such experiments could easily end up in kitsch and high brow art. But, with “Siwan”, Jon Balke is brilliantly successfull. The music has a great flow, nothing seems artificial, the elegant, sensual and erotic voice of Amina Alaoui is , from time to time, having great “conversations” with Jon Hassell’s drifting trumpet figures. A lot is going on here.
The music is trenendously rich in textures and melodies. The whole project started when Jon Balke was intrigued by an anthology of Spanish and English translations of old texts and poems from Al-Andalous. But when his companion Amina performed some of the pieces in arabic language, the words brightened up. So nearly everything was done with the original texts. The result: one of the most stunning records of 2009 – lovers of Early Music could as easily enter this word as jazz freaks (with a special love for textures from Gil Evans and Miles Davis), or people from the not-so-fucked-up corner of “ethnic fusion”. It rarely happens: a pure fantasy that comes along without cliches! One of the greatest achievements of Jon Balke, alongside this year’s ridiculously overlooked “solo-piano-and-sounds”-opus “Warp”.