Norwegian pianist and composer Jon Balke has been performing as a professional since the age of 18. His early work includes time with Karin Krog and Arild Andersen. Later international collaborators include John Surman, Archie Shepp and Zbigniew Namyslowski. Balke is, in addition, founder of Masqualero and the composer, arranger and director of Oslo 13.
Book Of Velocities, Balke’s first solo piano recording, is a collection of 19 short pieces grouped into four chapters and an epilogue. The title refers to, in Balke’s words, the velocity of a finger hitting any specific key on a keyboard thus setting in motion a series of mechanics leading to the production of "sound, then come the chords, melodies and context." In this recording, Balke plays a spontaneous idea at the piano, based either on an abstract graphic idea or musical lines, and then through a series of takes, develops each idea. He does this in each of the chapters before moving on to the next idea and its chapter.
The music might most appropriately be classified as new age with the overall flow being open, calmly natured and without rigid meter. The ever-present and easily-distinguishable melodies of most new age, however, are absent. Instead, Balke presents a series of pieces that unfold in a single continuous line. Development is more about where the lines end up rather than any specific deconstruction and rearrangement. The result is music more about atmosphere, not easily digestible and without easily sung melodic motives.
Balke’s language includes numerous sections that employ extended techniques more associated with classical music, as in playing on the strings of the keyboard on "Giada" and "Resilience." Other classical elements include extended harmonic treatments and presentations of those treatments in almost Varese-like approaches in pieces like "Spread" and "Sunday Shapes." These inclusions, along with a definite emphasis on jazz-inspired, but not readily apparent, stylings demonstrate Balke’s rich musical lineage and his all-inclusive approach to music making. Unbound by definitions he is able to craft personal musical statements unimaginable by other musicians.
Ultimately, whether music of this highly personal nature works of not will be totally up to the listener. Some of the short pieces sing out marvelously, like "Obsidian," while others, like "Double Line," appear lost and aimless from the start. That this is music out of the ordinary is beyond dispute, what it conveys is a snapshot of one portion of this artist’s music perspective at this point in his history.