Raoul Björkenheim eCsTaSy
Gig Seeker Pro

Raoul Björkenheim eCsTaSy

Helsinki, Central Finland, Finland | Established. Jan 01, 2014 | INDIE

Helsinki, Central Finland, Finland | INDIE
Established on Jan, 2014
Band Jazz World


This band has not uploaded any videos
This band has not uploaded any videos




Raoul Björkenheim has been known for some time as one of the most creative guitarists, composers, and improvisers of our age and has been known to transcend the spirit and power of “Jimi Hendrix and Sonny Sharrock to Finland’s distant shores.” His most recent project with his brand new ensemble “captures the Finnish-American musician at the peak of his powers, leading a virtuosic Finnish group featuring the brilliant saxophonist Pauli Lyytinen and the inventive rhythm section tandem of bassist Jori Huhtala and drummer Markku Ounaskari.” Aptly titled eCsTaSy, the ensemble is named after the intense sense of energy and presence cultivated together. Björkenheim, marks his fourth return to Cuneiform with the self titled, Ecstasy - and if I can say so myself, the return was extraordinary. Pick up our copy of Ecstasy today via Cuneiform directly and enjoy the tune “El Pueblo Unido” below.
From Cuneiform Records:
Performing together since 2010, the quartet explores an array of moods and textures, from brooding soundscapes and cinematic anthems to giddy grooves and meter-shifting steeplechases. For Björkenheim, the band has become an organism in its own right, “four guys with their own voice,” he says. “Pauli Lyytinen’s sax inspires me with his fluency and inventiveness, and likewise Jori Huhtala, with his very rhythmical drive. Knowing these voices, my writing strives to harness the music that is within each of us so as to flow unrestricted, freely.” Which isn’t to say that the quartet’s music is primarily inspired by free jazz. Rather, Björkenheim writes compact, carefully crafted tunes that can unfold with a clear narrative arc or that evolve organically using brief thematic cells. Laying the foundation for every piece is the kinetic rhythm section that generates tremendous thrust, churning and burning at every tempo. - Sound Colour Vibration

"Bjorkenheim Raoul: Ecstasy"

Bjorkenheim, Raoul: Ecstasy
Holy 1970s! When I first began listening to this, I immediately thought of 2 guitarists, one being Terje Rypdal and the other Sonny Sharrock. I thought of Rypdal is the kind of attack that Bjorkenheim uses, and of Sharrock for the writing and free jazz approaches used by this band. This is first noticeable right off the bat on "Pueblo Unido" as soon as the guitar solo begins. What you hear would not be out of place on one of Rypdal's early ECM releases. But unlike Rypdal, whose early music was more fusion-ish, this music is freer and more improvisatory. The interplay among the 4 musicians is incredible. All are Finns, and include in addition to Bjorkenheim, Pauli Lyytinen on saxes, Jori Huhtala on bass and Marku Ounaskari on drums. It may be that as Finns they have breathed the same glacial air as Rypdal, as this music has that same kind of density and feel that Rypdal's best also has.

Each song carries wonderful synchronicity among the players, jagged yet fluid guitar playing, tonal and atonal sax solos and wonderful support from the rhythm section. Lyytinen is a real find for me, though he has a checkered history with a number of ensembles. His playing moves from inside to out with complete ease; his solos have their own logic and drive. "Sos" is a great example, where he begins playing over a driving beat, and then takes his solo into almost a sheet-of-sound direction.
I love this stuff! It is both a throwback and a move into the future. It is different from past work by Bjorkenheim, but it bodes well for what is to come. And live these guys must be ballbusters.

Track Listings

Pueblo Unido
No Delay
Through the Looking Glass
As Luck Would have It
Subterranean Samba
The Sky is Ruby - Sea of Tranquility

"Raoul Björkenheim Ecstasy"

Edward Vesala was a taskmaster and something of a martinet. He was also a visionary bandleader, with more than a little about him of Miles Davis, who had been a major influence. His approach to music and to ensemble playing had a communitarian aspect. His Sound and Fury group spent longish periods sequestered in the Finnish countryside while Vesala coached his musicians in an approach to improvisation that seemed to involve multiple layers of rhythm – something that perhaps came more naturally to the percussionist leader than to his horn players – and in slow evolutions of melody.

His methods – intense, and sometimes “harsh,” as his daughter Lumi confirmed to me – yielded some of the most beautiful European jazz of the ‘80s and ‘90s, and shaped a cohort of players who have in many cases gone on to make highly original contributions of their own since his death in 1999: most obviously Vesala’s widow Iro Haarla, whose instruments and career somewhat resemble Alice Coltrane’s, but also bassist Ulf Krokfors, guitarist Jimi Sumen, trumpeter Matti Riikonen and multi-reedman Jorma Tapio.

Perhaps the most distinguished Vesala alumnus was the one first to detach from the leader’s bearhug and set up on his own – Raoul Björkenheim. The guitarist’s first group as leader was called Krakatau, a name chosen to suggest the volcanic power-trio music he made with Krokfors, saxophonist (and krakophonist) Jone Takamaki and drummer Alf Forsman. Despite the boilingly hot drive of most of the group’s pieces, influenced by Cream, Lifetime, the Jimi Hendrix Experience (and perhaps more notionally the Pete Cosey/Reggie Lucas version of the Miles Davis group), there was a lyrical side to the guitarist’s playing as well, an approach to exotic melody that came out on “Changgo” and “Nai” on Krakatau’s eponymous ECM debut.

The group on eCsTaSy is similarly configured, with Pauli Lyytinen on saxophone and kalimba, Juri Huhtala on bass and Markku Ounaskari providing as convincing an extension of Vesala’s stratified approach as any we’ve heard since the great man’s passing. It opens with the joyous unison line of “El Pueblo Unido,” which is credited to Björkenheim but owes more than a little to Charlie Haden’s “Song For Che,” unless it also borrows from Haden’s Spanish Civil War sources. What comes next is an interesting surprise for anyone not accustomed to the guitarist’s work, for “Sos” (so written) is cast in a tight, hectic neo-bop form, reflecting, I suspect, Björkenheim’s early debt to Eric Dolphy. Huhtala even does a convincing Ron Carter solo. The improvised “Deeper” moves closer to the slow free-jazz of Sound and Fury, built over a bass drone that has something of “Goodbye, Pork Pie Hat” to it.

This textural and dynamic variety is one of Björkenheim’s great strengths. He has always had a knack for programming albums and eCsTaSy is as carefully put together as a great pop set. After the improvised track, the pace picks up somewhat. “No Delay” is quite virtuosic and demanding, reminiscent in its way of a freer version of the Mahavishnu Orchestra. There’s more stop-start stuff on “Through the Looking Glass” and then a change of gear, “As Luck Would Have It,” the very Vesala-like “Subterranean Tango” and the equally mysterious “Threshold,” with a nice roar-up finish on “The Sky Is Ruby”.

The other impressive thing about Björkenheim is that his groups aren’t just a pair of minders hired from Redding/Mitchell Stage Security Inc. but proper groups with strong individual personalities as well as a clear collective aesthetic. Repeated listenings suggest that Huhtala is integral to the sound and mixed well forward. The saxophone man plays well in some very un-saxophonic keys and Ounaskari is, as above, a player of serious lineage and considerable originality. I last saw Björkenheim a few years back in Luleå, more laid back and thoughtful than he’s usually presented. The title’s well chosen. This is music thoughtful enough to stand outside itself but without more than a passing hint of Mahavishnu’s skyscraping. Excellent.
–Brian Morton - Point of Departure


Raoul Bjrkenheim eCsTaSy: eCsTaSy, cuneiform Records 2014


Feeling a bit camera shy


Raoul Bjrkenheim eCsTaSy

From the beginning of the millenium, Raoul Bjrkenheim has been improvising new music with many of the finest american and european musicians on the scene: Scorch Trio with Paal Nilssen-Love and Ingebrigt Hker Flaten, a trio with Hamid Drake and William Parker, another trio with Bill Laswell and Morgan gren, and duos with Lukas Ligeti, to name a few. Having lived in New York from 2001, where he soaked up many new approaches to music, he returned to Finland in 2008.

Bjrkenheim formed eCsTaSy, an all-finnish quartet, in 2010, bringing two young talents, Pauli Lyytinen and Jori Huhtala, into the spotlight in a repertory of original compositions painting swirling polyrhythms with a free-tonal palette. Bjrkenheims accomplice from many previous projects, Markku Ounaskari, brings his own subtle mastery into the mix, thus combining the sensibilities of three generations. With influences ranging from Korean and African music to contemporary chamber music and free rock, eCsTaSys mission is to elevate its audiences with high energy and a dedication to adventurous sound. The quartet released its first CD on Cuneiform Records in February 2014, Bjrkenheims fourth on that label.

Bjrkenheims by now nearly legendary guitar playing is known for its searing lyricism and wide flexibility, documented on over 30 albums with bands such as Krakatau, Phantom City and Edward Vesala Sound & Fury. Several records for ECM brought him to the attention of the international community in the early 90s, and since then he has performed and recorded with musicians like Toshinori Kondo, Anthony Braxton, Henry Kaiser and Mats Gustafsson.

Pauli Lyytinen is a musician and composer with an obsession for tone color and experimental techniques, creating a sensation with his fluency on the Bb family of saxophones, from bass to soprano. In music ranging from hardcore free to experimental pop, Lyytinen has been inventing new roles for his instruments in his groups Elifantree, Defekt, Kauhukakara and Minor DeLuxe, often limiting himself to the role of accompanist. In this quartet, Lyytinen gets a chance to spread his improvisatory wings.

Jori Huhtala brings a powerful presence to the band with his strong contrabass playing. Resonating with echoes of Miroslav Vitous and other past masters, Huhtala has been much in demand among the top Finnish musicians, and his current bands include Kvalda, Big Blue, Hanne Pulli Space Machine and Mighty Mighty Sextet. Bjrkenheim met Lyytinen and Huhtala during his teaching duties at the Sibelius Academy, and was inspired by their playing to create this quartet.

Markku Ounaskari is a veteran of some of the most memorable Finnish groups in the past two decades. He has been very busy recording for ECM, most recently releasing his first solo abum in 2010. Ounaskari has played with all the major Finnish jazz figures, and with international players including Lee Konitz, Kenny Wheeler, Tomasz Stanko and Marc Ducret. He and Bjrkenheim have played together for two decades, most recently in a quartet with Juhani Aaltonen.

Raoul Bjrkenheim: electric guitars
Pauli Lyytinen: saxophones
Jori Huhtala: bass
Markku Ounaskari: drums