Jon Balke, Siwan ‘Nahnou Houm’ (ECM) 4/5

Once again ECM comes up trumps with a recording that brings together the Sufi mysticism of Iran, baroque music from the English and Spanish traditions, and a strong nod to the Al-Andalus musical tradition. This album takes a leaf out of the superb explorations of Jordi Savall when investigating the early music folk traditions of the Mediterranean, and leader and arranger Jon Balke and Siwan take this a step further, by heading on across the desert of North Africa. Recorded in Copenhagen, a thriving alternative venue to Oslo, the project began back in 2007 with a desire to examine the musical aspects of Andalucian culture and then extended to other domains ranging from art, culture and science, to the effects of the Inquisition. This is music at the crossroads of civilisation, and is illustrated by the wondrous, ‘Duda’, with a plethora of strings, vocals and the whirling sound of the kemençe percussion instrument. Sparse instrumentation with a folkloric guitar plus sweet vocals from Mona Boutchebah dominate on, ‘Desmayor se’ (‘Swooning’). All but two pieces are originals, with, ‘Ma kontou’, an Andalusian traditional number which features a percussive solo in the introduction. A heart-rending and intimate piece, ‘Itimad’, ends the album on a high with vocal and percussion in the ascendancy and lyrics dating from eleventh century Spain. This is a delightful listening experience and one to be consumed alongside ‘Blue Maqam’ by Anouar Brahemm, where the voyage is into the Orient. Faced with the political impotency of ‘super power’ leaders to many of the world’s global problems, this intimate riposte advocates a different and more productive path of peaceful co-operation and indeed co-existence.

Tim Stenhouse