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Sunday, September 21, 2008

Raoul Björkenheim, William Parker, Hamid Drake - DGM@The Stone Vol. 2 (DMG, 2008) ****

Finnish power jazz guitarist Raoul Björkenheim asked (begged?) the organizers of the DMG festival in December 2006 to let him perform with Hamid Drake and William Parker, and wouldn't that indeed be any soloist's dream? For Björkenheim it became a reality and to great effect. Björkenheim has a tendency to be totally "out there", in very adventurous regions, but here he moves a little more to the middle of the spectrum (although that's very relative), without relinquishing his powerful and highly energetic playing, while Parker and Drake again demonstrate that no style or approach is alien to them and they adapt with verve and spirit. Next to his guitar he also switches once in a while to his electric viola da gamba, bowing the strings, inviting Parker to join for almost electronic sounding weirdness, but as surprisingly, there are even moments when he plays it clean, without any pedals or other distorted sounds. Björkenheim's music is as usual not restricted to any style or genre : there is jazz to be heard, blues, but it mostly sounds like a rock guitar jam session, with lots of energy, ever moving forward, with no respect or memory of previously played themes or phrases, ever moving forward without looking back, playing notes in the moment itself, coming up with new ideas, delivering them and on we go to other places. Even in this kind of environment, Parker feels perfectly at ease, making his bass sound the natural partner of this wild guitar, while Drake again amazes me with his unbelievable skill of sounding almost fluent and relaxed while playing hard-hitting high energy rock-influenced beats.

On the last track, the roles are reversed, with William Parker playing shawm, a reed instrument, and Björkenheim taking over the bass part on the lower strings of his guitar, playing a rock-influenced vamp, with Drake playing up a storm in the background. In short, it's the high quality equivalent of three youngsters having fun with improvising. The lack of focus is easily counterbalanced by the apparent fun, discipline and musical immediacy.

© stef