Friday, January 24, 2014

Raoul Björkenheim - Ecstasy (Cuneiform, 2014)

Electric guitarist Raoul Björkenheim’s new band is an all-Finnish ensemble with Pauli Lyytinen on saxophones, Jori Huhtala on bass and Markku Ounaskari on drums. The band communicates on a very high level and revels in bringing the exciting spiritual jazz sound of the late 1960’s into a thoroughly postmodern setting. “El Pueblo Unido” opens with a blast of raw saxophone and cathartic guitar in an exciting Sonny Sharrock-esque manner building to a thrilling conclusion. Stomping saxophone and choppy rhythm usher in “SOS,” the complex tune featuring fast, snaking saxophone accented with shards of guitar. After slowing down for a bass solo the full band races to the end. “No Delay” jumps out fast where swirling saxophone and drums meet up with elastic bass, while Björkenheim sneaks up from behind to ratchet up the sound. Sharp edged guitar and garrulous drumming ties everything up for a heavy finish. Solo bass opens “As Luck Would Have It” and then guitar, saxophone and drums fill in the picture, picking up the pace and making space for Björkenheim’s breakthrough solo for the album. On much of the album he is very generous in giving space to his band mates, but he takes the wheel and stomps on the gas here spraying gravel all over the place, in a thrilling feature. The full band returns still white hot, bringing the song to a close. “Threshold” is a ballad where soft bass and saxophone set the foundation for a shower of guitar notes. Percussion enters and the pace slowly begins to build, but never out of control. “The Sky is Ruby” powers the album to an excellent finish with saxophone and guitar coming out fast and strong. Lyytinen gets a lengthy feature and he makes excellent use of it, spooling out a lengthy solo that is very exciting and well built, hopefully we will be hearing more from him soon. Björkenheim succeeds him, spraying hot metal notes and combining with Ounaskari’s drums to develop an overpowering sound thats ends this excellent album in glorious fashion. Ecstasy -

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