Six years on from “Statements”, Batagraf’s ECM debut, the collective returns with transformed personnel but unchanged priorities. Drumming as language and language harnessed as music: both aspects remain important for this “percussion think-tank” of Norwegian origin, thoroughly international in its aspirations.
“Drumming is speaking and language is a miracle, in all its manifestations” notes co-founder Jon Balke of Batagraf’s mission. “In the Orisha culture of the Yoruba in Nigeria, manifested and surviving vividly in Cuba, the Bata drum patterns symbolize sacred texts. In Arabic music the metric patterns stem from lines of poetry. In Wolof culture Bakas are small personal poems that define a drummer’s identity and purpose in life; they are also played and used as breaks or signals to alter the flow of the music.” Inspired by these rich traditions, “Say and Play” draws upon the inner energy and creativity of the cultures, as Batagraf continues to explore the relation between language and rhythms, also offering language that celebrates the rhythms of nature, as in Torgeir Rebolledo Pedersen’s poetry:
a cloud answers the call of rain
and plays hundred-handed on a fern
as summer answers
the call of autumn
as the sky pulls down rain
and drums with it
Pedersen, a well-known Norwegian poet and dramatist is a recent addition to Batagraf’s mutable ranks, and he reads texts from his books Samlede dikt (Collected Poems), Geitehjerte (A Goat’s Heart), and Erfaring og forsvinning (Experience and Disappearance). English translations of texts used on “Say and Play” can be read at www.ecmrecords.com.
Jon Balke also supplies his own stream of consciousness lyrics, ably sung by Emilie Stoesen Christensen. Emilie, daughter of veteran ECM drummer Jon Christensen, is lately gaining recognition for her work with a number of Norwegian bands, including the Oslo JazzNonett. She makes her label debut here.
Kit drummer Erland Dahlen is well known to followers of modern jazz of the north for his tenure in the groups of Nils Petter Molvaer and Eivind Aarset, including the latter’s Sonic Codex Quartet.
The core of the band, in its current incarnation, comprises Jon Balke and Helge Andreas Norbakken. Balke, author of most of the pieces here, stresses that “all the percussion layers and the final development of the music have been very much a collaboration.” Norbakken has been an important contributor to Balke projects including Siwan and the Magnetic North Orchestra, and has also been heard on ECM as a member of Jon Hassell’s group on “Last night the moon came, dropping its clothes in the street” and with Miki N’Doye on “Tuki”. Other affiliations have included extensive work with singers Mari Boine and Maria João.
Jon Balke has been professionally active in music since the age of 18 when he joined Arild Andersen’s group to record “Clouds In My Head” for ECM. Since then, his musical life has moved through several stages. On ECM he has been featured as leader/composer/ arranger/keyboardist of Oslo 13, Magnetic North Orchestra and Siwan, and as solo pianist on “Book of Velocities”. His involvement with percussion, fore grounded in Batagraf, has a long history, and dates back to his ten-year collaboration with West-African musicians in the band E’Olen, between 1978 and 1988.
Batagraf launch “Say and Play” with a special release concert at Parkteatret in Oslo on October 14, presented as a part of the Film fra Sør Festival. The concert is followed by a Batagraf tour of Brazil, which finds the musicians working with dancers of the Wee Dancer Company. Collaborations between Batagraf and the Trondheim Voices are also part of the collective’s schedule this season.