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Friday, November 11, 2011

Raoul Bjorkenheim, Bill Laswell, Morgan Agren - Blixt (Cuneiform, 2011) ****½

By Paul Acquaro

I suppose that Blixt is best described as a rock power trio. Working with industrial strength rhythms, thickly distorted leads and dark enveloping bass, the trio moves through a series of tough minded improvisations bracketed by short heads. However, as tough and stormy as the tunes may get at times, the musicianship and sensibilities of all involved provide enough nuance and sophistication to keep even the heaviest moments buoyant.

That being said, the album begins with a flat out hard rock tour-de-force. Bjorkenheim's guitar is dressed up in crunchy distortion and highly stylized mayhem as he leads bassist Bill Laswell and drummer Morgan Agren through a Hendrixian opening statement into a series of dark riffs. As the tune opens up, Bjorkenheim's jazzier proclivities bends the metal a bit. Throughout the next two songs, the three musicians cohere to create a densely rhythmic workout.

Halfway through the recording there is a quiet moment. More world fusion than shredding, "Shifting Sands Closing Hour" settles into percussive groove and Bjorkenheim puts down the guitar momentarily as other more exotic instruments enter the fray. This song also seems to mark a shift in the dynamics, as the next eight and a half minute of "Ghost Stokes" and eleven minutes of "Invisible One" features slightly less distortion, more texture and space for the melodic bass lines. The shift brings the trio slightly closer in style to Bjokenheim's Scorch Trio without duplicating it in any sense. Laswell's processed bass sound and evocative lines lends the music a unique aesthetic and Agren's strident and precise percussion gives Bjorkenheim's guitar more than adequate space and support to dive into some heady improvisation.

While the aforementioned slow build in "Ghost Stokes" serves as an excellent example of how well the players listen and empathize with each other, this is true throughout. Overall, there is not a song that feels out of place or seems like filler, 'Blixt' is an excellent jazz rock album, from the full on shredding workouts to the smouldering tunes and back.

Listen to "Moon Tune"