Norwegian pianist Jon Balke's new band, Batagraf, is named for, according to Balke himself, the Latin verb "battere": beat and graph, meaning "writer or writing." Given that there are four percussionists in this band -- five if you include Balke himself on occasional beat-mongering -- all of who had been introduced to Cuban bata drums (which originated in the African Yoruba tradition), where drums and voices were synched and intuitive across a circle of players and poems, stories and other speech patterns were emulated and recited. Great idea. Balke has been looking outside jazz and even improvised jazz norms for a while now. This set employs the drummers, electronic keyboards, sound processing, saxophone, trumpet, and four vocalists either singing, chanting, or reciting poetic texts. Sounds abstract, right? Yep. Even so, it is so earthy, so utterly rhythm-driven, even somewhat curmudgeonly jazzheads would be moving their feet as they complained about its postmodern approach. Frode Nymo's saxophone playing is utterly from the Ornette Coleman school of improvising -- where the saxophone uses song structures to play its part in the group dynamic. The drumming lends itself to progression and travel from within, as well as from without. Traditions blur and blend as vocals, texts, and horns enter and leave. Balke's keyboards are more atmospheric than improvisatory. They are informed by the drums and direct and paint the energy from there within the ensemble. Since most of the vocals are not in English, they too become extensions of the timeless rhythmic flow. This recording is magical, brave, and unconcerned with anything but the joy of performance. There is no deep thought at work, but there is plenty of deep feeling in these grooves. Balke is pointing in brave new directions here by using the past to create a present future tense that melds as it moves forward.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek