Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Raoul Bjorkenheim's Ecstasy - Doors of Perception (Cuneiform, 2017)

Finnish/American guitarist Raoul Bjorkenheim's band Ecstasy is a tight and exciting jazz fusion outfit featuring Markku Ounaskari on drums, Jori Huhtala on bass and Pauli Lyytinen on saxophones and flute. The band has been together for over six years and the experience shows on this crisply played album. The album opens with "The Ides of March" which has an apprehensive air, with grinding guitar, thick bass and skittish saxophone. The group's collective playing develops a groove that moves about vigorously, making for a murky but alluring full band sound. "Answer It" on the other hand has shards of prickly electric guitar, sparking across the soundscape like heat lightning, with a fractured rhythmic beat from the drummer. It has a tight and claustrophobic feature for guitar and drums that works well, with added heft from the bass that enters into the mix. Raw saxophone makes the music even more potent and the musicians are patient enough to allow their improvisation to develop organically. "Buzz" develops an ominous repetitive groove that is framed by strange sounding saxophone and insistent cymbal playing. The music is alarming and arresting, with some overcaffeinated interplay that builds through a number of short cells. Lyytinen moves to flute for "Surf Bird" with subtle rhythm in support with the band allowing a lot of open space to envelop the the performance. They move into a mysterious and interesting performance that has an exotic tinge to it. "Elemental" has guitar chording that moves gracefully forward with dancing cymbals and bass in support. Light and airy soprano saxophone joins the group as they develop a sleek full band improvisation, with the saxophone taking flight in a nimble fashion and the leader slashing bright groups of notes behind him. The music progresses in a twisting or spiraling pattern that works quite well and holds the listener's attention. Popping and hooting saxophone and crashing drums add swagger to "Talkin' to Me?" which is met by gnarly electric guitar lurching forward in a harsh and grating fashion. They develop the dirty and raw Taxi Driver vibe even further, developing strong and undisguised jazz fusion. There's a break into a section of savage saxophone over cruising bass and drums before Björkenheim’s guitar screams back in, creating some delightful mayhem. Light bass and drums usher in the title track "Doors of Perception" which seems to refers more to Huxley than a certain LA rock band. The quartet makes interesting music with low toned strings and light cymbals creating a unique feel, as the saxophone gradually folds into the proceedings. The music is being created spontaneously, with the sense of an ongoing conversation which develops into an intriguingly disorienting sensation. "Jitterbug" is an uptempo track that has a fun and frolicking feel to it as the group plays with a tight groove and making short work of the themes that percolate, and sharp strident guitar and saxophone leading the charge. There is a subtle flowing sensation on "Sunflower" with the gentle taps of Ounaskari's cymbals meeting the shimmering guitar and low toned saxophone, to create a colorful almost psychedelic performance, leading to the expansion of consciousness that the album's title alludes to. The album concludes with "Ecstasy Dance" which is an exciting, highly charged performance with a driving tempo and soprano saxophone that has an intense, vivid color or a swirling abstract pattern. Bjorkenhem's snarling guitar then takes the lead and performs a very exciting solo backed by driving bass and drums, leading the band into the home stretch. This album worked quite well, with the experienced and polished ensemble stretching the textures and rhythmic and melodic narratives in an exciting and enthralling manner. Doors of Perception - amazon.com

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