Raoul Björkenheim Ecstasy: Doors of Perception (Cuneiform)

Review of album by the Finnish-American guitarist Raoul Björkenheim and his group Ecstasy

RaoulBjorkheim_Ecstasy

Cover of Raoul Björkenheim Ecstasy album Doors of Perception

When the Finnish-American guitarist Raoul Björkenheim formed Ecstasy with saxophonist/flutist Pauli Lyytinen, bassist Jori Huhtala and drummer Markku Ounaskari, the idea was that the group would concentrate on playing its leader’s compositions. Seven years and two albums later, things have changed; seven out of 10 tracks on Doors of Perception are credited to all four band members.

At first, the jam-born nature of this material is a little too clear. “Ides of March” gets the album off to a promising start with swirls of stormy weather from all concerned. But both it and the three cuts that follow are essentially mood pieces with little variation in harmony (although track three, “Buzz,” does benefit from an insistently seesawing main melodic line and a galloping tempo).

The picture begins to shift with “Elemental,” when Björkenheim—with some subtle help from a harmonizing effect—lays out an array of enigmatic chords over Huhtala’s urgent drone and Ounaskari’s unsettled hi-hat patterns. Next comes “Talkin’ to Me?,” which orients itself early on around a lowdown 7/4 riff played with absolute filthiness by Huhtala and Lyytinen (the latter on bass saxophone). Björkenheim uses this platform to leap into a savage, thickly distorted solo. As soon as Lyytinen stops playing the riff and commences his own solo, the 7/4 rhythm ceases and we enter a free zone, with the rest of the band setting off sustained bursts of noisy crosstalk. The sudden transition is handled brilliantly.

On the album’s final four tracks, Ecstasy keeps the tension and quality levels high. Björkenheim applies a bow to his guitar for extra menace on the title tune, while the bouncy “Jitterfug” prompts his and Lyttinen’s rawest and wittiest playing. “Sunflower” is an expansive space-out, and “Ecstasy Dance” closes the program in roiling, rousing fashion.

Preview, buy or download songs from the album Doors of Perception by Raoul Björkenheim Ecstasy on iTunes.