Raoul Bjorkenheim: Out of the Blue (Cuneiform)

Finland based virtuoso guitarist returns with excellent world music infused new set

Released Oct 16th, 2015 via Cuneiform / By Norman Miller
Raoul Bjorkenheim: Out of the Blue (Cuneiform) Born in the US but with strong Finnish roots courtesy of Nordic parents, virtuoso guitarist Raoul Björkenheim has shuttled between the two countries physically and musically, absorbing further influences from places as diverse as Turkey and southern Africa en route.

For company, he teams up on this second album under the Ecstasy moniker with Finns Pauli Lyytinen (bass, tenor and soprano saxophones plus Turkish mey), youthful bassist Jori Huhtala and celebrated drummer Markku Ounaskari.

Their sound is marked by virtuoso guitar licks, rapidly shifting tempi and a frequent sense of nervy tension, nowhere more were on Uptown with its Hendrix-meets-Cream wailing bluesy guitar, driving bass and snarling sax. Roller Coaster follows a similar template with sax parps lolloping through carefully honed dischordancy laced by jittery guitar.

There's versatility too, however. The slow Latino inflections of Heads And Tails' extended guitar play hints at Al Di Meola, complemented by moody sax, edgy bass and jittery drums, while Quintrille oozes cool Coltrane swing as Bjorkenheim's guitar melds with the Eastern wind sound of the mey. An Eastern influence also marks A Fly In The House Of Love with its slow-breathing reflective sax, gently plucked strings and little percussive spatters.

The sense of control that laces most of the album falters on just a couple of tracks - the scatter-gun noodling of You'll Never Know and the unwise doom-laden guitar chords of OLJ.

But the bar soars again with the 10-minute closing track Zebra Dreams – an admirable blend of mid-tempo township jive guitar that sweetly morphs into something jazzier that nods to Pat Metheny, with Nordic sax filtering at various points into the groove.