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Raoul Björkenheim and eCsTaSy at Sello Hall in Espoo

Raoul Björkenheim and eCsTaSy at Sello Hall in Espoo

Courtesy Sakari Puhakka


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Raoul Björkenheim and eCsTaSy with Juhani Aaltonen
Sello Hall
Espoo, Finland
March 25, 2022

When guitarist Raoul Bjorkenheim and the rest of the all-Finnish eCsTaSy took the stage at the local arts venue in Espoo, the audience were still streaming into the the hall after the intermission—such is the band's enthusiasm to get out there and play. With two years since their previous public performance, there may have been some nerves too, but this is essentially a band ready for the road. As the guitarist informed me after the concert, "100 gigs a year would be great, 150 would be tops."

The concert was billed as a celebration of Björkenheim's 40 years in the game (remember he started his professional career in his early 20s with Edward Vesala, and he is now a very youthful 66). With "Matinale," the titular piece from the fourth disc made by his first band, Krakatau, Björjkenheim laid down the course of the evening's entertainment, a selection of his own pieces from four of his subsequent bands, including TRIAD and the Italian-Finnish Solar Wind.

However the old masterpiece that is "Matinale" had been preceded by a piece which included the other soloist from the first half of the program, Juhani Aaltonen, the former saxophonist now playing exclusively flute. Another alumnus of Berklee College and of Vesala's circle in the 1980s, Aaltonen had worked with Björkenheim over the years and produced a joint album, Awakening (Eclipse 2018). This night eCsTaSy joined these two veterans to play Coltrane's "Peace on Earth," dedicated to those suffering the conflict in Ukraine.

Not only the two veterans, but all the musicians performing are themselves old hands in the field of free jazz, and taking the baton from the guitarist's admitted fascination with John Coltrane, played an evening of virtuoso, urgent and intricate improvisation and interplay. The two youngest players, bassist Jori Huhtala and saxophonist Pauli Lyytinen were both Björkenheim's students when they started playing with him in 2010, but now lead their own bands in addition to their work in eCsTaSy. Markku Ounaskari on drums is a major figure in the Finnish jazz world, and has played since the '90s with other luminaries like Tomasz Stańko and Marc Ducret.

While reflecting on Björkenheim's work of the last 40 years, the evening revealed the developments that he has made along the way. The coruscating energy of his early Hendrix-inspired work has changed somewhat over time as he has come closer to Coltrane's later, more melodic phrasing. He is still working on his technique after 40 years in the frontline, recently expanding his use of tone clusters and harmonics. The 'angry young man' of Krakatau is superseded by an urgent older man, pouring out passages of impassioned sound, and yearning still to get back onto the stage at New York's Village Vanguard.



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