"Björkenheim has been well regarded since his 1980s work...but his recent releases have been particularly memorable."

"I...was stunned by his Hendrix meets late era Coltrane approach."
Guitar Moderne

"Despite the boilingly hot drive...influenced by Cream, Lifetime, the Jimi Hendrix Experience (and perhaps more notionally the Pete Cosey/Reggie Lucas version of the Miles Davis group), there's a lyrical side to the guitarist’s playing as well...Excellent."
Point Of Departure

"...out jazz with lots of sass and vigor...recalls the thornier side of the ECM Records catalog, especially the works of fellow Scandinavians Edward Vesala and Terje Rypdal. Björkenheim attacks the guitar the way the late great Sonny Sharrock did - like Coltrane and Ayler “attacked” their saxophones...yet blues is never very far away. There’s also the chunky focus of pre-Mahavishnu John McLaughlin...The way RB cross-pollinates between jazz and rock recalls fellow traveler Nels Cline, and the results are similar: Oblique swing, gnarly noise, predictably unpredictable, swell."

Guitarist and composer Raoul Björkenheim emerged from Finland in the 80s with Edward Vesala's band, then started his own group, Krakatau, who recorded for ECM and Cuneiform.

He is probably best known for his work with Scorch Trio and with Bill Laswell and Morgan Agren in Blixt, but he has been a busy, active player for the last 30 years. As anyone who has every seen him can attest, he is one of the great, unheralded guitarists of our time.



RUNE 443


"Doors Of Perception is Raoul Bjorkenheim's eCsTaSy's third release. With this one, Bjorkenheim seems to be reverting back to the first album's concept. While the last album, Out Of The Blue contained several longer tracks (one clocking in over 10 minutes), Doors… keeps things short and not-so-sweet. Although there is a conciseness to these tracks there's no diminution of power and that serves to make them more immediate and effective. One still gets Bjorkenheim's distortion-drenched guitar in large doses. And one gets Lyytinen's characteristic throaty, vocalized saxophones as well. The rhythm section still mixes rock-ish energy with free jazz openness. But that said, it's not all mere energy and aggression. There are several interludes that give the music a wider range. The title track has a smoldering essence that always seems on the verge of erupting but never quite does. And that's very satisfying in and of itself....There's a clarity to this recording that makes it quite appealing. For the most part one can hear all voices clearly which especially works to acoustic bassist Jori Huhtala's advantage. It's good that  Bjorkenheim has opted to use acoustic rather than the more expected electric bass. It's the secret weapon of this band. Huhtala's big sound and solid lines give the music the base it needs. At times it's more felt than heard but if one listens deeply, Huhtala is always doing something interesting.  Bjorkenheim seems to have a large number of projects but eCsTaSy is, in many ways, his most effective." – Cadence

In the mansion that is Raoul Björkenheim’s music there are many rooms, and the Finnish-American guitar explorer opens up a particularly vivid and volatile new portal with Doors of Perception, his third Cuneiform release with his quartet Ecstasy. The album captures an extraordinary working ensemble stretching into transfixing new spaces, settings defined as much by texture, vibe and sinuous melodic lines as by rhythmic and harmonic structures.

Featuring the innovative drummer Markku Ounaskari, Björkenheim’s longtime partner in sonic exploration, the young and dauntingly prolific bassist Jori Huhtala and saxophonist Pauli Lyytinen, Ecstasy continues to expand its sonic palette. Over the course of seven years the musicians have forged a riveting communion. Capaciously inventive, rigorously gutsy and unapologetically Nordic, the music flows from the forbidding Finnish landscape and the hothouse Helsinki scene that gave birth to the band.

“The band has really developed during the last few years, getting to a point that I had hoped we would reach,” Björkenheim says. “We went into the studio with some sketches, but most of the music was created spontaneously, and you get a sense of this ongoing conversation. We couldn’t have done this five years ago. We didn’t have this kind of trust yet.”

One sure sign of the quartet’s deep connection is the way they distill ideas. Sequenced as a stream of consciousness train of impressions, Doors of Perception features 10 tracks that all clock in under five minutes. Rather than exploring extended forms or expansive soundscapes the music is marked by pithy statements and compressed drama. Which isn’t to say Doors of Perception lacks grandeur. The album opens with “Ides of March,” a portentously churching piece that breaks like a thunderstorm, only to clear with a thumping bass passage and a thick, ringing guitar chord. “Buzz,” the album’s briefest piece, is a jittery journey that seems to pass through a multitude of stations, driven by Ounaskari’s spidery cymbal work.

Maybe the group was heading to the beach, as the wary but persistently spacious “Surf Bird,” follows, featuring Lyytinen’s lilting East-meets-West wood flute. The album’s longest track, “Elemental” is also the most pleasingly consonant, a snaky sojourn that keys on Lyytinen’s keening soprano sax and Björkenheim’s meaty strumming. With its blustery bass sax and rearing guitar line, “Talkin’ to Me?” is appropriately pugnacious, while the title track proceeds like an invitation to an enigmatic subterranean realm. The album closes with “Ecstasy Dance,” a righteous blast of joy that whirls off to the horizon, suggesting yet another door well worth entering.

While Björkenheim is no stranger to long musical structures, he was after a different kind of narrative arc on Doors of Perception. Much like each piece is a finely calibrated aural microcosmos, the album proceeds from track to track with its own internal logic. “In a way it is countercultural,” Björkenheim says. “It’s an invitation to a listener to enter in the world that might be disorienting. I don’t hear a walking bass, is this jazz? It might be a little bit of a challenge, but it’s also an invitation.”

With Doors of Perception, Björkenheim and Ecstasy offer something all too rare these days, a musical journey in which the destination is unknown and unpredictable.

Cuneiform: 2017, Catalog #: 443

Doors of Perception press release

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RUNE 413


Ecstasy is usually an all too fleeting experience offering the briefest glimpse at transcendence. But a heightened sense of consciousness and discovery manifests throughout Out of the Blue, the transporting second album by composer and guitar maestro Raoul Björkenheim and his extraordinary Finnish quartet Ecstasy.

Featuring the celebrated drummer Markku Ounaskari, the young and dauntingly prolific bassist Jori Huhtala and saxophonist Pauli Lyytinen, Ecstasy has forged more than a signature sound. Over the course of five years the musicians have honed a supremely interactive modus operandi marked by unstable textures, rapidly shifting meters, and emotionally charged melodic flights. Earthy, pristine and unmistakably Nordic, the music evokes the grandeur of Finnish landscapes and the hothouse intimacy of a tight-knit Helsinki scene where the musicians regularly convene to refine their volatile sound.

“I always felt there’s something special about having a band,” Björkenheim says. “An all-star session can be good too, but the thing I’m missing nowadays in jazz is really good bands playing together tightly, turning on a dime together, and especially improvising together.” True to Raoul's statement, this is a band effort, and like all great bands, the sum is greater than the parts. With 2 years additional experience together for this album, everything is upped from the last one: the compositions, the improvisations, the ensemble work and the solos!

Cuneiform: 2015, Catalog #: 413

Out of the Blue press release

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RUNE 373


"Finnish guitarist Raoul Björkenheim’s...got a new band named the title of this album, and they play “out” jazz with lots of sass and vigor. Ecstasy recalls the thornier side of the ECM Records catalog, especially the works of fellow Scandinavians Edward Vesala and Terje Rypdal. Björkenheim attacks the guitar the way the late great Sonny Sharrock did—like Coltrane and Ayler “attacked” their saxophones (mad-fierce aban- don)—yet blues is never very far away. There’s also the chunky focus of pre-Mahavishnu John McLaughlin and the searing wit of Frank Zappa. The way RB cross-pollinates between jazz and rock recalls fellow traveler Nels Cline, and the results are similar: Oblique swing, gnarly noise, predictably unpredictable, swell." – Icon

eCsTaSy is his new electric, ecstatic jazz band, which features some of the younger talents on the Finnish jazz scene and which was designed to be an ensemble that will regularly go out and tour. The group consists of Raoul, Pauli Lyytinen (saxophones), Jori Huhtala (contrabass) and Markku Ounaskari (drums) in a repertory of original compositions painting swirling polyrhythms with a free-tonal palette.

With influences ranging from Korean and African music to contemporary chamber music, new jazz and free rock, eCsTaSy's mission is to elevate its audiences with their high energy and dedication to adventurous sound.

"The band name Ecstasy refers to a music that is so fluid and intelligible that it flows around and past obstacles, and attains the listener by surprise and joy. The listener finds himself outside of his self, transported. I firmly believe that music does have a mission to elevate the spirit, to remind the listener about the ecstasy of being alive. I'd love our band to play so much together that we'd be able to communicate on a high level of ESP, and make our group interplay truly virtuosic in the positive meaning of that word. Then we could communicate to any audience, regardless of whether "jazz", "rock" or 'contemporary.'" – Raoul Björkenheim

eCsTaSy brings together new and established names from the Finnish scene into a compact powerhouse of an ensemble.

Cuneiform: 2014, Catalog #: 373

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RUNE 156


Finnish guitarist Raoul's energizing, furious playing has been featured with a wide array of well known international artists, including Mats Gustavsson, Henry Kaiser, Mike Keneally, Bill Laswell, Michael Manring, Paul Schütze, Nicky Skopelitis, Jah Wobble and many others. Apocalypso was written in 1995, & premiered in 1996 at the Helsinki Juhlaviikot Festival. Apocalypso is a galvanizing & exciting work that features the massed power of 30 guitarists, 8 bassists and 4 percussionists. This version, recorded in 2000, features Raoul performing all of the parts himself in a tour-de-force of virtual ensemble playing.

Cuneiform: 2001. Catalog #: 156

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This is a reissue of the Finnish lp-only first release by this great rock/avant/fusion guitarist and his band, and includes two bonus tracks. The record features a unique blend of heavy guitarwork combined with dual, wailing Coleman and Ayler-influenced saxes and a rhythm section of bass/electric bass and two drummers. The music is quite original, but has certain musical ties to the harmolodic school ala The Decoding Society and Prime Time. ECM released their 3rd and 4th albums and since that time Raoul has performed with a number of great players in a number of different playing situations. But this is where it all began, and it began in a great way here!

"...one of the best albums heard in a few months." - Musician

Cuneiform: 1996, Catalog #: Rune 86

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For press and media: cover art and high resolution images are available below for download (click thumbnail, right-click image and select "Save As.."). Please credit the photographer (when available) and "Courtesy of Cuneiform Records". For more information, click here.

Doors of Perception
Out of the Blue

Doors of Perception press release
Out of the Blue Press Release
Out of the Blue Press Quotes
eCsTaSy Press Release
eCsTaSy Press Quotes
Apocalypso Press Release
Apocalypso Press Quotes
Ritual Press Release

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