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One listen to "Kjale Hole" on Scorch Trio's sophomore effort, Luggumt , and you quickly realize that this may be one of the most aptly-named groups on the scene today. Blistering in its intensity, the trio combines the searing energy of a rock power trio with the broadest freedom and exploration that jazz has to offer. Kind of like Jimi Hendrix meets Albert Ayler, but with a more elastic Scandinavian time sense.
This comes as no surprise given that Scorch Trio's guitarist is Raoul Bjorkenheim, who first came to the larger attention of the adventurous listening public with his anthemic-meets-expansive group Krakatau, who recorded two albums for ECM in the early '90s, as well as two earlier Finnish albums including Ritual , that has since been reissued by Cuneiform Records. Bjorkenheim is the Finnish counterpart to American guitarist Nels Cline , another intrepid guitarist whose influences are equally broad, from the extroversion of Jimi Hendrix and John McLaughlin to the more intimate intensity of Derek Bailey. But as outward-reaching as both players are, there is less of the direct jazz tradition in Bjorkenheim. Bjorkenheim cut his teeth with Finnish legend Edward Vesala, recording on his classic Lumi (ECM, '87), and Vesala's adventurous folk spirit still looms large over Bjorkenheim's work, with a sound and fury that combines outrageous improvisation of reckless abandon while still retaining a clear sense of focus.
Fleshing out the trio are bassist Ingebrigt Haker Flaten and percussionist Paal Nilssen-Love, both in-demand players on the vibrant Norwegian scene, including work with The Thing, School Days and Atomic.
Two burning tracks bookend the album; the more overtly intense and frenetic "Kjale Hole," and the more simmering yet no-less-extreme title track, where Flaten occasionally emerges from the maelstrom with rapid rhythmic figures that give the piece a sense of forward momentum without losing any of its inherent freedom. In between are works that demonstrate that Scorch Trio's palette is broader than strict expressionism. "Synnja Vegga" is an introspective piece, with subtle electronics, odd percussion and struck bass chords providing a backdrop for Bjorkenheim's extended techniques. On "Brenni Fynnj" Flaten switches to double-bass for a piece that finds Bjorkenheim utilizing a cleaner tone and largely angular lines over Nilssen-Love's subtly frenetic drumming. "Furskunjt" finds Bjorkenheim on slide guitar over a tumultuous rhythm section that evokes images of Robert Johnson and John Lee Hooker meeting up with Ornette Coleman.
As paradoxical as Scorch Trio can sometimes appear in their blending of a variety of traditions, the underlying precept is of creative freedom, a milieu where few rules seem to apply. And yet, like Cline, Bjorkenheim's style is recognizable in its combination of a more outr' approach and edgier rock sensibility. Luggumt is unquestionably a record that challenges the listener, but for those unafraid of a more aggressive stance occasionally broken by moments of darker grace, Scorch Trio is well worth investigating.
Jazz is a continuing revelation. The best show I ever attended was the
Roots Picnic at Penn's Landing in Philadelphia, or was it Robert
Glasper's Experiment at Lincoln Center, or was it Chick Corea with
Brian Blade at Oberlin College? Most of all I enjoy playing guitar and
composing beats with my Brooklyn-based group Space Captain.