In the mansion that is guitarist 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. Slated for release on October 6, 2017, 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 saxophonist Pauli Lyytinen and bassist Jori Huhtala, eCsTaSy continues to expand its sonic palette. Over the course of six years the musicians have forged a riveting communion. Capaciously inventive, rigorously gutsy and unapologetically Nordic, the music flows from the mystic Finnish landscape and the hothouse Helsinki music 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 instead marked by pithy statements and compressed drama. Which isn’t to say Doors of Perception lacks grandeur. The album opens with “Ides of March,” an ominous, portentously churning 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 soaring 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 micro-cosmos, 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 enter a 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 avoid predictable and boring routines to offer the listeners something all too rare in most jazz these days. The Doors of Perception invites listeners to join eCsTaSy’s musical trip, a journey filled with excitement and joyous revelations that spark emotions and expand all ears.
Doors of Perception is the third release by Raoul Björkenheim’s Ecstasy, all of which were released by Cuneiform. The first album, the self-titled eCsTaSy, came out in 2014. eCsTaSy’s second album, Out of the Blue, was released in 2015. Both previous eCsTaSy albums were nominated for the Emma Prize for Best Jazz Recording in Finland, which is the Finnish version of the Grammy.
As those who’ve seen him in his many ensembles can testify, guitarist Björkenheim is an astounding live performer, and his band eCsTaSy is positively electrifying live. Active on the international jazz festival circuit, Ecstasy recently played at Jazzahead in Bremen in April 2017. In support of the release of Doors of Perception, Ecstasy will perform several concerts in Finland in 2017. Björkenheim plans to tour Ecstasy internationally in 2018, as well as to do several festival performances.
1. Ides of March 03:16
2. Answer It! 05:13
3. Buzz 03:01
4. Surf Bird 04:27
5. Elemental 05:44
6. Talkin’ to Me? 04:18
7. Doors of Perception 05:30
8. Jitterfug 03:25
9. Sunflower 03:21
10. Ecstasy Dance 04:50
Cat. #: Rune 443, Format: CD / Digital Download
Genre: Jazz / Improv
Release Date: October 6, 2017