1/  Black Whole                                (Laswell,Björkenheim,Ågren)   3.44
  2/  Moon Tune                                  (Laswell,Björkenheim,Ågren)   2.10
  3/  Tools                                      (Laswell,Björkenheim,Ågren)   5.23
  4/  Cinque Roulettes                           (Laswell,Björkenheim,Ågren)   3.53
  5/  Shifting Sands Closing Hour                (Laswell,Björkenheim,Ågren)   2.44
  6/  Ghost Strokes                              (Laswell,Björkenheim,Ågren)   8.26
  7/  Invisible One                              (Laswell,Björkenheim,Ågren)   11.17
  8/  Drill Beats                                (Laswell,Björkenheim,Ågren)   2.46
  9/  Storm                                      (Laswell,Björkenheim,Ågren)   3.38
  10/ 4-4-4-4-2-2-2-5-2                          (Laswell,Björkenheim,Ågren)   4.04 

          Recorded at Orange Music Sound, West Orange, NJ, September 20-21, 2010
          Produced by Bill Laswell
          Engineer and mixed by: Robert Musso
          Assistant: James Dellatacoma
          Mastered by Michael Fossenkemper
Raoul Björkenheim: guitar; Bill Laswell: bass; Morgan Ågren: drums.

          2011 - Cuneiform Records (USA), RUNE335 (CD)


Back in February, I interviewed Bill Laswell, and toward the end of our conversation, when we were talking about his relationship to metal (which has been fractious – members of White Zombie and Motörhead frequently decry the albums he produced for them), he told me, "I just did a recording with a drummer from Sweden, Morgen Ågren, and his approach is very advanced and incredibly complex. I guess you could say derivative of metal. And my approach was something else. And we did a recording with Finnish guitarist Raoul Björkenheim. So that kind of borders on a mutant sort of metal." I was genuinely curious to hear that record, because I've heard a few other CDs by Björkenheim, with his own Scorch Trio and in a couple of other contexts.

He's an interesting guitarist – post-Hendrixian in his use of distortion and overdriven amps, but I hear echoes of Caspar Brötzmann, Blind Idiot God's Andy Hawkins, too, and plenty of other modern dudes who play in a hard rock/metal style without actually being in a metal band. Scorch Trio is an old-fashioned power trio, with Björkenheim's very electric guitar tracked by bass and drums through compositions that are basically riff-based platforms for lengthy bouts of aggressive, noisy soloing. It reminds me of stuff Hendrix was doing in the last year of his life, crossed with mid '70s fusion like Tony Williams Lifetime or the short-lived Trio of Doom (John McLaughlin, Jaco Pastorius and Williams). Blixt sounds somewhat similar to Scorch Trio material, albeit with Laswell's bass bubbling up and constantly threatening to take over the mix. He's using the same filters and effects he always does, the ones that can work either really well or stick out horribly (as he did on the Purple Trap CD he made with guitarist Keiji Haino and drummer Rashied Ali). Most of the time on Blixt, Laswell's bass sound is great for the music, though. He locks in well with drummer Ågren, creating stuttering funk-rock grooves over which Björkenheim tears it up in a style that's indebted to '70s hard rock as much as it is to '90s postpunk noise-rock. If you can imagine Ronnie Montrose sitting in with Helmet, with frequent outbursts of urban dub, you’ve got some idea of what you’ll hear on Blixt. It's got to be pointed out that Ågren's drum sound is pretty weird; his toms sound like plastic coffee cans. But his playing is ferocious, so the strangeness of his tone only becomes distracting a few times. The biggest problem the album has is probably the low-stakes feel it has. This never seems like the product of a working band (which it's not); it's the result of a day in the studio. Some pieces are built around riffs, but the majority are pure improv, and it gets pretty damn noticeable at times. It’s the equivalent of a 1950s hard bop blowing session, but these guys aren't playing the blues. Maybe if they were, some of this music would stick in the mind a little more firmly. But honestly, as impressively pyrotechnic as its best moments are, Blixt flies by and leaves very little impression when it's over.

Phil Freeman (courtesy of the Burning Ambulance website)


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


Paul Acquaro (courtesy of the Free Jazz Blog)