Batagraf is a stellar ensemble led by Jon Balke, creating percussive explorations and interrogations of words and moods. Previously described by Balke as a "private research forum" rather than a fixed "band", this has certainly proven to be the case, as the ensemble members have varied from one release to the next.
Founded in 2003, "Delights of decay" marks their 15th anniversary. The debut, "Statements" (ECM, 2005) and its follow-up, "Say and Play" (ECM, 2011) have revealed Jon Balke, Helge Andreas Norbakken and Snorre Bjerck as the core membership, as well as clearly illustrating the evolution of ideas and concepts within the project framework as a whole.
Percussion and language remain central, and in the Batagraf philosophy, they are the essential heart of human musical expression. Drawing on various cultural expressions of this idea, Batagraf produces a music that is clearly connected to a broad spectrum of human experience and imagination and expression, but has its own clearly defined identity.
The compositions on "Delights of decay" are by Jon Balke, with lyrics by Emilie Stoesen Christensen (alongside some improvisations). The myriad influences on the Batagraf sound on this collection are numerous and dense, but are distinctly global rather than narrowly localized. The group's interactions, both directly and indirectly with percussion masters from around the world, and travels and workshops in Gambia, Senegal, Nigeria, Cuba, and beyond, have allowed the group to draw from a deep well of ideas that they weave into a new musical language that is rich, evocative, familiar and new. Additional tonality is provided by trumpeter, Mathias Eick and saxophonist Trygve Seim. Their work within the framework compositions by Balke brings both textural and harmonic elements that intermingle seamlessly with the moods evoked, and in turn discover and propagate new moods of their own. The exploratory nature of the project adds a certain frisson to the listening experience, with even repeat listens offering the feeling that these are events unfolding live rather than recordings.
Batagraf's formation in 2003 was a direct reaction to the prevalence of strict computer sequenced beats (and the subsequent dehumanization of much music as a result). The elasticity and flexibility of human percussion and rhythm-keeping (something that even the most advanced computers cannot emulate successfully) is at the heart of Batagraf. Through the years, the group has performed many concerts with varying lineups, and the core group has included Harald Skullerud, Ingar Zach and Kenneth Ekornes, but now consists of Helge Norbakken, Snorre Bjerck and Jon Balke. This core has formed different alliances with other artists, forming a family of groups with separate names:
Pratagraf is a collaboration with two of Norway´s leading standup comedians,Espen Beranek Holm and Are Kalvø.
Batabrok is a collaboration with rapper Runar Gudnason and Hedvig Mollestad.
The Batagraf line-ups have also included Frode Nymo (saxophone), Arve Henriksen (trumpet), Sidsel Endresen (voice), Solveig Slettahjell (voice), Miki N'Doye (voice), Jocelyn Sete Camara Silva (voice), Jennifer Mykja Balke (voice), Erland Dahlen (drums ), and Torgeir Rebolledo Pedersen (voice).