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Raoul Bjorkenheim: Guitarist Between Two Continents

By Published: March 5, 2005
AAJ: Have you been doing things with saxophonists lately? When I saw you in Helsinki you were working with a 3-piece. Earlier you were working with the modern Finnish bigband UMO. Is it something you have missed?

RB: No, no. We had a saxophonist in the band (Krakatau) for six or seven years - Jone Takamaki. But we also have a big band together called Suhkan Uhka (an untranslatable Finnish pun - I think)) though it's not on the home page yet. It's a large band, with four wind instruments. I also played a gig in Sicily with Tim Hagan the trumpet player - a Tribute to Miles, though we didn't do any Miles pieces! (For those pieces see Electrifying Miles with UMO, Bjorkenheim and Hagen, A-Records AL 73153) So I have had quite a share of playing with wind players.

But I do like playing with guitarists. I've just been playing bass on a rock recording. That was a nice challenge for me to get into the groove with the drummer.

AAJ: And you did this as...

RB:...not under a pseudonym?

RB: Yes, yes. It was one of my ploys - with not enough work as a guitarist I thought there might be the possibility of some work as a pre-rhythm bass. Actually the record I did was with a guy called Jukka Orma, who played with a Finnish punk/rock band called Sielun Veljet. So we did the record with him, and a guy who played with Krakatau called Affe Forsman. And we'd played so many years together, although I'd always been on guitar, that it was very easy to get into the groove.

AAJ: So you're off to the States with an open book?

RB: Well I know some things are brewing. First of all a record I made called Apocalypso, and it's a thing originally made with 30 guitars and 8 bass players and 4 drummers. So I got a grant to do it, and went into the studio and I did all the overdubs myself. It's a record on which I played the whole orchestra - and I designed the cover and produced it as well - so it's something I can really stand behind. That's coming out in September on Cuneiform.

Then there's a compilation of acoustic guitar playing coming out next fall, compiled by Henry Kaiser. I did a record with him a couple of years ago. There are going to be people like Derek Bailey, Eugene Chadborn, Fred Frith and Henry Kaiser of course. I hope this will lead to someone hearing this and calling me and offering a gig, and that will lead to something else. My experience of whenever being in doubt is to just go ahead and do it, because it usually leads to something else anyway!

AAJ: So will you be coming back to Europe soon? You mentioned to me that you would be playing in some festivals...

RB: Oh yes definitely. I have a commissioned work for Avanti, the (modern Finnish) chamber orchestra. That's going to be performed in Porvoo, Finland next summer. That's for violin, electric guitar and orchestra. Now I have finally got rid of this one behemoth, the Apocalypso album, I can concentrate on compositional work.

But my main love is playing in trios, and that's what I hope I'll be doing more.Two months ago I came back from a little tour with these Norwegian musicians called Scorch Trio, a little bit like Scorchio. They tour very often in America with Mats Gustafsson the Swedish saxophone player. And they also play with Kim Vandermark the American saxophonist from Chicago, and their bassist plays with Hamid Drake.

AAJ: So they're in the same vein as you, spending time between Europe and the States?

RB: Yes hopefully, that would be ideal. Well I also expect to do something with Bill Laswell , but that again takes me away from the jazz area. But I wouldn't mind every now and then travelling to Chicago and playing a weekend there, or going down to Oakland to do a gig. I still haven't played the Fillmore West. I still want to do that.

AAJ: You've not made it yet!

RB: No, but I will!

AAJ: OK, how about time for your "ambient music"? That was something I saw on your homepage, and you'd obviously enjoyed doing it at the time, and writing it up!

RB: You mean Phantom City. That's a very nice project. The first one was done by Paul Schutze, an Australian. Well he's been living in London, and he put together a soundscape which he sent to Bill Laswell to add some bass, and then it was sent to me to add guitar. Then it went to Seattle for some trombone - basically it went to 7 different countries, before it was eventually mixed by Paul in Basel. It was like a virtual band. It didn't exist in real time. But then we got a couple of gigs, and it was so easy to lock into what Bill Laswell was doing.

AAJ: And you made one live recording of that band?

RB: Yes Shiva Recoil is released (Virgin AMBT 21). But it's unfortunate these ambient records are hard to find nowadays because they are out of print. I have only one copy myself of them. At the time Virgin did a series on ambient discs, but only pressed a small volume of them. So now that the series is finished they're not reprinting any of them.

AAJ: And it's too early for any re-release?

RB: Yes, and it's too bad because the first one we did, we recorded sending it back and forth, is called Site Anubis (Big Cat ABB 106). I think it's one of the nicest records I've ever done.

On this high note the interview dissolved into Finnish, with Bjorkenheim rushing into his kitchen to save his son Cosmo from burning their supper on the kitchen stove! How the artist must struggle for his daily bread!

I am now eagerly awaiting Raoul Bjorkenheim's return to these Scandinavian shores in summer 2002, and very jealous of any New Yorkers who spot his name on the gig list of their local club - don't miss him, he may soon be appearing near you!

Visit Raoul Bjorkenheim on the web.

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