Jon Balke & Magnetic North Orchestra
Recorded November 2001
Rainbow Studio, Oslo
The first ECM album in nine years by Norwegian pianist/composer/arranger Jon Balke and his "orchestra", now streamlined to a septet of top-flight Scandinavian soloists. "Kyanos" is Greek for "blue", and the album pulsates with intense colour. Balke has developed into an exceptionally skilled arranger and his blending of textures as well as his strong melodic sense are to the fore in this striking and arresting album. Like Duke Ellington or Gil Evans before him, Balke writes with the idiosyncratic sounds and personalities of his musicians in mind, and makes the fullest use of the resources available to him. He still understands jazz as "the sound of surprise", and his melodies take unexpected turns.
All Music Guide
There's something about the splintered and spacious voicing of Jon Balke's opening chord that tells you there's a mind at work here, and through the next 47 minutes Balke goes on to prove exactly what a sensitive and probing mind that is. ... The music is unhurried and roomy, and Balke weaves remarkably sonorous sounds and harmonic variety from the minimum of resources. The tracks run together as a continuous structure and Balke's score abounds with good set pieces. ...This is an engaging and intelligent release by a true composer with an innate understanding of the demands of improvising soloists.
- Philip Clark, Jazzreview
What began as a percussion group, a string quartet and a jazz sextet has now been pared down to a septet with two trumpets, a saxophone, cello, piano, bass and drums but without loss of Balke's sweeping orchestral concept in a highly personal fusion of jazz, classical elements and ethnic musics. Kyanos is an exquisite unravelling of textures against discretely pulsating rhythms; Balke says he writes, Ellingtonlike, for the specific musical personalities in his group, and the way his textures billow or hang in the air like a dense Nordic fog reflects a close musical understanding of his group. Balke's writing is rich in inner detail, his orchestral tonal clusters never quite what they seem, with unusual combinations of instruments grouping and regrouping then parting to allow a solo voice to be heard. Hypnotic and mesmerising.
- Stuart Nicholson, Jazzwise