Raoul Björkenheim/William Parker/Hamid Drake
Los Angeles-born, Finnish guitarist Raoul Björkenheim spent the better part of this decade living in New York City before returning to Finland, regularly blazing his way through exuberant sets at many Downtown key venues. He still manages to return regularly to New York though and his most recent two visits both involved wonderful performances at The Stone.
Volume 2 of the DMG @ The Stone series features Björkenheim in a trio with the ubiquitous rhythm section of bassist William Parker and drummer Hamid Drake for one long set. The album takes the entire performance and breaks it up into separate tracks, highlighting the variety of moods, textures, time-feels and tonalities the ensemble naturally produced through spontaneous improvisation. Given Drake and Parker's longstanding association, it is not surprising that the ensemble unity is full of depth and momentum while also completely embracing the unexpected. Listeners are highly encouraged to experience the disc from start to finish, as the transitions between sections are often delightful in and of themselves.
Björkenheim returned to The Stone last month for two sets with drummer/composer Lukas Ligeti. The pair both have a bit of a history with African music. Björkenheim's associations with Senegalese musicians in Finland and his collaboration with Ethiopian singer Gigi influences his work just as Ligeti's approach to incorporating the complex polymetric structures in Ugandan music and his work with Beta Foly and Burkina Electric both contribute to his unique drum style. Björkenheim's guitar pyrotechnics blend
virtuosity and versatility with a keen sense of abstraction. His use of an effects-laden electric mandolin made for an almost kalimba-like pulse, with a strong groove colored with kaleidoscopic tonal material that eradicated any notion of pitch center. The result was a driving, rhythmic music rife with abstract textures that reveled in the macro-structural idiosyncrasies that duo performance engenders.
Two other recent discs by Björkenheim are also worth mentioning, both released on the Rune Grammofon label. Brolt! is the latest disc by Björkenheim's Scorch Trio, which also features an omnipresent and highly noteworthy rhythm teambassist Ingebrigt Håker Flaten and drummer Paal Nilssen-Love. This trio burns from beginning to end, with fiery improvisation in the fore right from the opening notes of "Olstra" to the ending of "Bluring". Even the most subdued moments are filled with dread, as on "Basjen" or the opening to "Bluring".
Box's Studio 1 features an amalgamation of international characters from across the spectrum of rock-influenced improvised music. Keyboardist Ståle Storløkken is the founder of Supersilent, a Norwegian avant-noise/improv group with eight releases on Rune Grammofon and bassist Trevor Dunn can be heard on records by John Zorn's Electric Masada and Moonchild and the avant-metal group Fantomas. But the music is subdued, abstract and enjoying a more relaxed sonic atmosphere. Electronic textures and semi-mechanized rhythmic devices are on display throughout. The human hand is also most assuredly present though the fascinating sonic craftsmanship is its own centerpiece, rather than a framework for the musicians' virtuosity. The ensemble first convened to make music for film-maker Philip Mullarkey and the music is spacious, encouraging the listener to conjure cinematic metaphors of their own.
Tracks and Personnel
DMG @ The Stone, Vol. 2
Tracks: Lithotone I (parts 1-6); Lithotone II.
Personnel: electric guitars, electric viola da gamba; William Parker: bass; Hamid Drake: drums.
Tracks: Olstra; Basjen; Hys; Gaba; Graps; Bluring.
Personnel: Raoul Björkenheim: electric guitars, electric viola da gamba; Ingebrigt Haker Flaten: electric bass, electronics; Paal Nilssen-Love: drums, percussion.
Tracks: Untitled 9; Untitled 11; Untitled 7; Untitled 3; Untitled 13; Untitled 12.
Personnel: Raoul Björkenheim: electric guitars, electric viola da gamba; Trevor Dunn: bass; Ståle Storløkken: keyboards, electronics; Morgan Agren: drums.