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Siwan

4.5 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews

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Audio CD, June 30, 2009
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Product Details

  • Audio CD (June 30, 2009)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: ECM Records
  • ASIN: B001PS0EKW
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #167,844 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: MP3 Music
Jon Balke does it again with another great album. This one isn't as overtly 'modern' as say Divergent Travels, but it is certainly 'new,' in the sense that it is blend of various traditional music genres with a bit of an electronica twist. If you are looking for something with electronica beats though, I suggest checking out Terje Rypdal's Vossabrygg. The percussion on this latest Balke almbum is pounding and flashy but it leans toward an acoustic feel. If your contemplating getting the mp3 version, I'd like to point out that the linear notes for this record contain full translations of each song and a short essay with pictures on the project and its intention. For some this may not really be worth the extra money and the lack of instant gratification but at least you can feel confident that having a hard copy of CD has a small perk.
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Format: Audio CD
A wise man once said "cross-cultural pollination is the life blood of music". He could have had Jon Balke's "Siwan" featuring the remarkable Moroccan vocalist Amina Alaoui in mind.

The ensemble includes Norwegian Jon Balke who conceived the project and arranged the music, Amina Alaoui who sings poetic texts in Arabic, Spanish and Portuguese from the Al-Andalus period of Muslim Iberia (730 to 1492), John Hassell (trumpet, electronics)lives for this kind of cross-cultural synthesis, and 12 baroque soloists (Bjarte Eike's Barokksolistene) with strings and lute and harpsichord. The most soul stirring sounds come from the artists newest to me: Algerian violinist Kheir Eddine M'Kachiche and Amina Alaoui.

I'm fascinated by Amina. She is a virtuoso singer and musicologist. Born in Fez, she was originally schooled in the Moroccan Gharnati tradition. Gharnati derives from Al-Andalus, where it spread from Granada to North Africa. Amina continues to research connections between flamenco, fado and the music of Al-Andalus. On Siwan much of the music was originally composed to Spanish translations of the poetry. Alaoui then helped to reshape the material around original Arabic versions.

The inspiration for this project stemmed from Balke observing similiarities between two beautiful traditions represented by the voice of Amina Alaoui and early music, as explored by Bjarte Eiike's Barokksolistene. But it goes deeper.

Excerpting from the cd liner notes and ECM's website:

"The title Siwan means in balance, or equilibrium, in a mixed language called Aljamiado, spoken under the Inquisition in Spain.

This is a fascinating blend of Arabic and European music and poetry, which is very poorly documented in European music history.
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Format: Audio CD
Siwan is a tantalising ECM project emerging from an eclectic literary and musical constellation. Amina Alaoui is a formidable scholar and artist, and one of the most gifted interpreters of the Gharnati tradition: the songs that survived at the Granada court, the last holdout against the Reconquista, and have survived centuries through oral transmission. Jon Balke is a Norwegian composer and jazz/folk/fusion pianist who won fame with his Magnetic North Orchestra. It is Balke who composed the music for the Siwan album, with Alaoui stepping in for poem adaptation and melodic co-composition. Jon Hassell is an American experimental trumpetist. Kheir Eddine M'Kachiche is an Algerian violinist and long-time accompanist of Amina Alaoui. They are backed up by a full-fledged baroque ensemble led by Bjarte Eike. Moorish and Iberian poets from the turbulent 11th and 12th centuries offer the literary raw material for Alaoui's songs. There are two excursions to 16th century Spain with Lope de Vega and St John of the Cross, the mystic who established the order of the barefoot Carmelites.

The journey starts with a purely instrumental invocation led by Kheir Eddine's mysterious violin. The following, short song 'O Andalusin' connects most poignantly. Richly harmonised it opens a vast and colourful panorama on a world that was on the verge of disappearing. Alaoui's voice is powerful and strikingly husky. The unfolding music is generally in a slow tempo, mournful (Ondas do mar de Vigo), longing or pensive (Ashiyin Raïqin) in tone, with discrete ostinato percussion sometimes lending an air of inevitability (Itimad). There are more lively intermezzos too with songs that sound strikingly contemporary (Jadwa, A la dina dana). Alaoui switches from Arabic to Spanish and Portuguese with admirable facility.
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Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
Siwan is what you get when you mix a Norwegian pianist (Jon Balke), an early music ensemble (Barokksolistene), a Moroccan singer (Amina Alaoui), an Iranian percussionist (Pedram Khavar Zamini), and an American jazz trumpeter (John Hassell), working with medieval Arabic, Portuguese, and Spanish texts -- often mystical. Beyond this, Siwan is nearly indescribable. At first listen, many of the pieces sound traditional, but they are all new compositions of Jon Balke, working closely with Moroccan singer Amina Alaoui. Siwan is unique and fits into no existing musical genre -- it transcends in many ways.
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Format: Audio CD
Jon Balke is primarily a keyboardist, but on the 2009 album SIWAN he steps back from his customary role to conduct a rather usual ensemble: European jazz players, a Baroque orchestra and, most prominently, the Moroccan vocalist Amina Alaoui singing Arabic or the Iberian languages. Balke and Alaoui wanted to explore together the possible resonances between the Arabic music of Al-Andalus and early European classical music. As the liner notes explain:

"This project is not a musicological research, but rather a tribute to musical freedom, by drawing upon the ideas and sounds of pre-renaissance and baroque music and developing a contemporary totality, rooted in the musical practices of these traditions. SIWAN also raises questions about what was lost in the bonfires of the Inquisition, and points to the catastrophic costs of religious intolerance."

The sound that results from this motley crew is difficult to describe, although it does fit in with the "ECM mood" in that its tempos are generally slow and even the faster material seems restrained. Some tracks like "Jadwa", "A la dina dana" and "Thulathiyat" are upbeat, with prominent percussion and the only comparison I can think of is the last couple of albums by Dead Can Dance. Other songs, such as "Ondas do mar de Vigo", "Ashiyin Raiqin" and "Zahori" are slow, even mournful. What might prove most memorable of all is the closing track, "Toda ciencia trascendiendo", a long setting of poetry by Juan de la Cruz that rises to ecstatic heights. The liner notes include the lyrics of most of these songs in Arabic, Spanish or Galician with English translation, as well as photos of the musicians.
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