Not your typical prog-jazz fusion.

Raoul Björkenheim/eCsTaSy – Doors of Perception [TrackList follows] – Cuneiform, Rune 443 43:05 [10/6/17] ****:

(Raoul Björkenheim – electric 6-string guitar, electric 12-string guitar, producer; Pauli Lyytinen – soprano, tenor, alto and bass saxophone, wood flute; Jori Huhtala – double bass; Markku Ounaskari – drums, percussion)

Finnish-American guitarist Raoul Björkenheim and his quartet, eCsTaSy [yes, the band’s name is spelled with alternating lowercase and upper-case letters] push outside the limits of prog-jazz on the group’s third release, the 43-minute Doors of Perception. Björkenheim’s previous outings stretched tunes into lengthy sonic excursions. Here, Björkenheim’s music is trimmed down. The longest cut is just short of six minutes, some barely go beyond three minutes. While the pieces are compressed, the overall impact is an album of unconsciously connected impressions with an internal consistency which proceeds from the opening track to the final, tenth piece. Björkenheim and eCsTaSy have been together for seven years and Björkenheim explains, “The band has really developed during the last few years, getting to a point that I had hoped we would reach. 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.”

An aggressive stance is heard on the boisterous opener, the three-minute “Ides of March,” which has a menacing, threatening agitation fronted by Pauli Lyytinen’s screeching sax, Jori Huhtala’s pounding bass, Björkenheim’s thick, resonating guitar chords and Markku Ounaskari’s booming drums. A similar acerbic connotation continues on the corrosive, five-minute “Answer It!,” where Björkenheim provides unconstrained guitar patterns; Lyytinen presents a jazz-hued sax break accompanied only by Huhtala’s double bass; and Ounaskari fills out the piece with lissome drumming and percussive touches.

At times, Björkenheim lives by the credo his music should be off-kilter and askew. He says listeners should “enter a world that may be disorienting. It might be a little bit of a challenge, but it’s also an invitation.” It’s that type of philosophy which permeates “Buzz,” a fast-paced and unrelenting tune which has an oscillating melodic motif and a careering beat. Other times, the foursome decelerate. The atmospheric and folk-ish “Surf Bird” feels like a separated slice of gentleness among the hardier cuts. “Surf Bird” centers on Lyytinen’s wood flute and Björkenheim’s iridescent, austere guitar lines. Ounaskari offers a glacially-moving cadence highlighted by his cymbals and snares, while Huhtala contributes ascetic bass notes. “Surf Bird” may have a title which mirrors surf music, but the approach is typical of cool, Nordic jazz. In fact, another piece, the 3:21 “Sunflower,” melds a few surf-music elements with prog-jazz. That’s due to Björkenheim’s vibrato-rich guitar sound which recalls modern surf-music players such as the Mermen. During “Sunflower” Lyytinen uses a low-pitched bass sax which interposes a moody layer, while the bass and drums furnish an ever-changing rhythmic foundation. Lyytinen’s bass sax is also the mainstay during “Talkin’ to Me?,” which no doubt was inspired by Robert DeNiro’s character from Taxi Driver. “Talkin’ to Me?” is fittingly punchy and sweeping, replete with violent passages from sax and guitar while the drums and bass supply a bounding beat. While most of the material has a tightly compacted nature, Björkenheim and eCsTaSy get expansive on the six-minute “Elemental,” a jazz-fusion track which features Ounaskari’s swinging drums, Björkenheim’s probing guitar chords and Lyytinen’s Coltrane-esque sax. The quartet concludes the way they start. The five-minute “Ecstasy Dance” is an upbeat jazz number which has a stimulating, arousing movement kindled by Björkenheim’s searing guitar runs. Doors of Perception is loose in the best possible way and yet disciplined. It’s quite an experience to explore the development of eCsTaSy as a performing ensemble and an improvising group. If you prefer jazz and improvised music which has a flinty-edged, electric-fusion timbre, take time to hear Raoul Björkenheim and eCsTaSy.

TrackList: 
Ides of March
Answer It!
Buzz
Surf Bird
Elemental
Talkin’ to Me?
Doors of Perception
Jitterfug
Sunflower
Ecstasy Dance

—Doug Simpson