“El Pueblo Unido” has a simple, folky melody that could be inspired by guitarist Raoul Björkenheim’s home in Finland. Delivered by an electric guitar and tenor sax and a free-rolling rhythm section, however, it sounds like nothing less than a lost Ornette Coleman theme delivered by Sonny Sharrock’s Ask the Angels band. Yes, comparisons are odious, but when they’re used to describe music this fiery and visceral they’re worthwhile.
Björkenheim has been involved in a number of projects in both the U.S. (where he was born) and Finland, and has recorded for ECM. eCsTaSy is his fourth release for Cuneiform, and this varied set draws on his progressive-rock chops and free-jazz execution, with surprises around every corner. The taut “SOS” begins with an off-kilter stop-start riff that Björkenheim punctuates with even stranger bottom-end notes. “Deeper” is a tone poem showcasing Jori Huhtala’s bowed bass. After the rumblings of “Subterranean Samba” (where Markku Ounaskari’s drums samba and the rest of the band handles the avant-garde textures), “Threshold” heads in the direction of a rubato ballad.
The key to the album’s excitement lies in the group interaction; Pauli Lyytinen plays both tenor and soprano with a force that holds its own alongside Björkenheim’s guitar. And the leader’s role is primarily as a conduit for feeling, able to leap from yowling leads to melodic textures without turning either situation into an opportunity for indulgence. eCsTaSy ends too soon, a delightful rarity in these days when more often means less.