PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Music

Raoul Björkenheim: eCsTaSy

Free-ish Finnish jazz guitarist alludes to ecstasy, makes solid album.


Raoul Björkenheim

eCsTaSy

Label: Cuneiform
US Release Date: 2014-01-21
UK Release Date: 2014-02-03
Label website
Artist website

What a neat little album of freakouts! Nine of ‘em there, all laid out in a row, none longer than six and a half minutes, and pretty much any type of guitar/sax/rhythm squalor you could ask for. Your wish is eCsTaSy’s command. Unless your wish is to capitalize the band’s name without hassle; in that case you’re out of luck. But even this annoying break with orthographical convention is symbolic. You can’t bottle ecstasy, whether you’re trying to pack it into seven letters or nine jazz tunes. Like rogue capital letters, ecstasy breaks into the world where it will, and one person’s ecstasy can quickly turn into another person’s annoyance or boredom or, if the other person is Charles Gayle, an anti-gay sermon. You court ecstasy at your own risk. Raoul Björkenheim has bestowed the name eCsTaSy upon both his Finnish band and this free-ish album, and they’re fundamentally safe takes on the phenomenon. eCsTaSy alludes to ecstasy but never gets there, and mostly it’s a really good time.

The album’s first song “El Pueblo Unido” alludes less to Latin American political protest than it does to Sonny Sharrock’s iconic Ask the Ages album. Björkenheim’s fills and solos here are gorgeous diatonic things that cascade their notes into mountainous heaps. As with Sharrock, Björkenheim’s guitar digs through effects and tone color, searching for transcendence. He’s less interested in melodic or harmonic invention, although the main melody travels to some unexpected places. Unlike the tunes on Ask the Ages, though, you probably won’t walk around humming “Unido”. The tune does its job, but it lacks something -- I wanna say “dark grandeur”, but I might just mean “a hook”.

From there, eCsTaSy mixes straight-up tunes with noisy experiments, almost track for track. “SOS” flips from a high melody to low quick Morse code honking, Björkenheim imitating a bari sax. Its solos go to the fleet-fingered Pauli Lyytinen, here on soprano sax, and bassist Jori Huhtala, who acquits himself well. I mean, he’s audible, so good job to the album’s engineer, one Mr. Risto Hemmi. Bass solos must be hard to get down on tape, or you’d hear more good ones.

Huhtala sounds better on the Coleman homage “No Delay”, which has him walking sympathetically under the free meanderings of sax and guitar. Huhtala’s bass and Markku Ounaskari’s drums take the Haden-Higgins approach to timekeeping. In other words, they make you lose track of the time. As long as they do their jobs, alternately cushioning and goading the soloists, a song like “No Delay” could last your whole commute and it’d be fine. But these are responsible Finns, so “No Delay” only lasts five minutes. The head isn’t as memorable as what Coleman would come up with, but what is? Ornette Coleman remains the catchiest atonal composer ever. Arnold Schoenberg scowls in his shadow.

There are more tune tunes, including a 9/8 funk with some wicked slide guitar, but just as important are what I’ll call the skronk tunes. Be warned, the band never descends/ascends into full-blown skronk mode. They instead give you little self-contained packages of radness: “Here’s the one where we make gentle improv noises at one another and Björkenheim tries out his new effects pedal.” That one’s called “Through the Looking Glass”, so what I’m hearing as lasers might possibly be the cries of the frumious bandersnatch. The song itself isn’t very frumious. Then there’s “Subterranean Samba”, where everyone turns into a percussion instrument. Even saxman Lyytinen! He doesn’t start banging on his horn or anything, but he hits short dry squeals over the rest of the band’s polyrhythmic spree. Once again, Björkenheim finds a novel sound, resembling the low end of an electric harpsichord. Finding just the right tone color seems to be a Björkenheim specialty, one of his main catalysts for creativity. It’s going down, he’s yelling “Timbre!”

The two what we’ll call ballads are ok. “Threshold” has a semblance of sax melody, some lovely guitar arpeggios, and lots of noodling. “Deeper” opens with Huhtala’s arco bass, an ominous sign that the band will commence a five-minute exploration of consciousness-altering drones. They do. A little of that goes a long way -- but on the other hand, five minutes is hardly sufficient time to have your consciousness altered. You go to La Monte Young and Marian Zazeela's Dream House, you think you're just gonna stay there five minutes? No! You wander around for hours, exploring how the different sine tones and overtones vibrate your head, seeing how the light moves and breathes if you give it time. In your fourth hour, maybe you learn to interact with the massless waves that acquire almost tactile presence.

Ahem. No, Björkenheim makes jazz albums and he's paced this one very well, so even while you’re exploring the "Deeper" drones with him, your mind can telegraph back to “SOS”, and then you’re off and running with “No Delay”. On eCsTaSy, Björkenheim and friends never leave it all on the table, the way they might live. On the other hand, they’re rarely boring, they have good taste, and they know how to put together an album. If that doesn’t sound like ecstasy -- well, who am I to say where it’ll strike?

7

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Television

How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.

Music

Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.

Music

CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.

Music

Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.

Music

While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.

Music

Peter Frampton Asks "Do You Feel Like I Do?" in Rock-Solid Book on Storied Career

British rocker Peter Frampton grew up fast before reaching meteoric heights with Frampton Comes Alive! Now the 70-year-old Grammy-winning artist facing a degenerative muscle condition looks back on his life in his new memoir and this revealing interview.

Books

Bishakh Som's 'Spellbound' Is an Innovative Take on the Graphic Memoir

Bishakh's Som's graphic memoir, Spellbound, serves as a reminder that trans memoirs need not hinge on transition narratives, or at least not on the ones we are used to seeing.

Music

Gamblers' Michael McManus Discusses Religion, Addiction, and the Importance of Writing Open-Ended Songs

Seductively approachable, Gamblers' sunny sound masks the tragedy and despair that populate the band's debut album.

Books

Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.

Film

In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.

Music

The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.

Television

The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.

Music

The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller
Music

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.

Music

When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.

Music

20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.

Music

The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.

Books

Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.