Björkenheim & Ligeti / Raoul Björkenheim / Lukas Ligeti


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For Shadowglow, this combination is a good one: Lukas Ligeti, a busy and provocative collaborator from the New York music scene, meets Raoul Bjorkenheim, a heavy duty electric guitarist from Finland formerly associated with the Krakatau band. The disc's elaborate and lovely packaging is a major difference between this and many other recordings of freely improvised guitar and percussion duets -- not to belittle the efforts of Ligeti and Bjorkenheim, who really play quite beautifully here. A painting by Lars-Gunnar Nordstrom, a self-taught Finnish master of so-called "constructivist art" is printed a total of three times in a booklet that also includes extensive background information on both the players and the session.

Guitarists traditionally love getting together with drummers, one attraction being the freedom inherent in an instrumental relationship where only one of the players deals with the harmonic burden. This is of less importance, of course, in a type of music where the chordal schemes are improvised as the piece unfolds, if they exist at all. A typical aspect of the drum and guitar duo is a sense of the thin and flimsy, a surprising scenario in some ways considering the bombast either instrument could be capable of. Nonetheless, whether the drummer is pounding heavily or stroking lightly, the guitarist's challenge is inevitably to try and not wind up sounding like a lonely voice whistling to himself atop the sonic debris. Ligeti seems constantly full of ideas and ready to go, a bit like the guy who shows up for a covered-dish dinner party packing 16 courses. He rarely waits around for his partner to establish the mood and show the way, utilizing even the smallest sounds and textures to suggest, or even put into play, a wide range of possibilities and options. Bjorkenheim likes to explore ways of extending the duration of sounds he makes; it is that quick drop-off of resonance, after all, that sometimes makes the guitar seem like a toy when matched against instruments such as a drum set or piano. ("It is," pianist Steve Beresford once commented concerning this situation). Bjorkenheim gets a horn-like sound with detailed use of distortion -- no, it shouldn't be described as horny -- and also makes use of a bow, making his axe sound like a violin, cello, or bass at various times. The sound of his 12-string and a wonderfully thick pile of polyrhythms start the CD off with the piece entitled "Into Fall" which, like all of the titles, most likely represents an after-the-fact attempt at describing some aspect of what has happened. "Niagara Mohawk," for example, has traces of Native American beats scrambled into a surprising assortment of references and quick changes. "Duoyell" is one of several pieces where the long shadow of John Coltrane is present, the way Bjorkenheim sets lyrical phrasing against the rumbling rush of drumming leading to a build-up of energy both chaotic and spiritually concentrated.

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