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Saturday, October 13, 2007

Raoul Björkenheim - The Sky Is Ruby (TUM Records, 2007) **½

Sometimes artists who have performed well in small settings, get over-ambitious, and start wanting to play with a big band, or with a string ensemble, regardless of what that means to their musical language. Ok, once in a while you're entitled to such adventures, but more often than not the languages don't mix, and the result is pretty disappointing. Miroslav Vitous made this mistake with his recent Universtal Syncopations II, and Finnish guitarist Raoul Björkenheim does exactly the same with this record. Björkenheim has made some excellent records with Krakatau or with the Scorch Trio, and his best once he released last year with Lukas Ligeti, a refreshing, very creative, and fabulous duo between guitar and percussion, called "Shadowglow". On "The Sky Is Ruby" he adds a whole big band, and it just doesn't work for me. It ties down Björkenheim's music in a straight-jacket, and the only possible way he can play on these pre-programmed tunes is by venturing into too predictable fusion soloing. True, he leaves much room for the band, and the musicians are excellent, but the music is not. What's the story? We've heard this kind of music so many times before. Sorry, you can't always win.