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Raoul Björkenheim ECsTaSy: Out of the Blue

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Critics have heaped lavish praise on guitarist Raoul Björkenheim’s curious brand of improvised jazz, and understandably so, even if commonly drawn parallels (Ayler, Coleman, Coltrane, Mahavishnu, Hendrix, Fela, et al.) only serve to underscore the audacious yet ultimately elusive nature of his music. Out of the Blue, the second recording by his stellar Finnish quartet eCsTaSy, will help burnish the band’s growing reputation for creative synthesis and spontaneity.

For more than five years now, Björkenheim has fruitfully collaborated with eCsTaSy’s renowned drummer Markku Ounaskari, bassist Jori Huhtala and saxophonist Pauli Lyytinen, while exploring a multidimensional sound that embraces expansive soundscapes, Nordic/noirish vignettes and jarringly kinetic interludes (and that’s the short list). On this session, nothing is more engaging than “Quintrille,” with its sleek harmonies, bluesy phrasing, impassioned soprano sax and ebullient rhythms, or as profoundly Zen as “A Fly in the House of Love,” an excursion resonating with exotic tones and colors. The Hendrix connection comes into sharp focus on “Uptown,” before Björkenheim yields the floor to Lyytinen, who engages in some muscular sparring with the ever-resourceful Ounaskari.

Another highlight, and another dramatic shift in mood, comes when the ensemble threatens to derail “Roller Coaster” with high-pitched interplay and high-spirited propulsion. A full account of the album’s rewards, though, demands close scrutiny: Out of the Blue is clearly the sort of recording that offers new discoveries and fresh perspectives with each spin.

Originally Published