Raoul Björkenheim Ecstasy

Raoul Björkenheim Ecstasy

In 2010 guitarist Raoul Björkenheim wanted to bring together the two young talents, sax player Pauli Lyytinen and bassist Jori Huhtala, and his long-time partner in crime, drummer Markku Ounaskari. That was the beginning of eCsTaSy, an all-Finnish quartet, with a repertory of swirling polyrhythms in a free-tonal palette. With influences ranging from Korean and African music to contemporary chamber music and free rock, eCsTaSy’s mission is to elevate its audiences with high energy and a dedication to adventurous sound. The quartet released its debut album on Cuneiform Records in February 2014. The record is Björkenheim’s fourth on that label.

Björkenheim’s guitar playing is known for it’s searing lyricism and wide flexibility, documented on over 30 albums with bands such as Krakatau, Phantom City and Sound and Fury. Several records for ECM brought him to the attention of the international community in the early 90’s, and since then he has performed and recorded with musicians like Toshinori Kondo, Anthony Braxton, Henry Kaiser and Mats Gustafsson. His current groups are the Scorch Trio, Blixt (featuring Bill Laswell and Morgan Ågren) and a trio with Hamid Drake and William Parker. He also has composed orchestral works and suites for big band, in addition to film scores. 

Pauli Lyytinen is a musician and composer with an obsession for tone color and experimental techniques who has been creating a sensation with his fluency on the entire family of saxophones, from bass to soprano. In music ranging from hardcore free to experimental pop, Lyytinen has been inventing new roles for his instruments in the groups Elifantree, Defekt, Kauhukakara and Minor DeLuxe, often limiting himself to the role of accompanist. In this quartet, Lyytinen gets a chance to spread his improvisatory wings. Jori Huhtala brings a powerful presence to the band with his strong contrabass playing, on an instrument built by his father. 

Resonating with echoes of Miroslav Vitous, Huhtala has been much in demand among the top Finnish musicians, and his current bands include Kvalda, Big Blue, Hanne Pulli Space Machine and Mighty Mighty Sextet. Björkenheim met Lyytinen and Huhtala in ensembles he was leading at the Sibelius Academy, and was inspired by their playing to create this quartet.

Markku Ounaskari is a veteran of some of the most memorable Finnish groups in the past two decades. He has been very busy recording for ECM, most recently releasing his first solo abum in 2010. Ounaskari has played with all the major Finnish jazz figures, and with international players including Lee Konitz, Kenny Wheeler, Tomasz Stanko and Marc Ducret. Early in his career he toured and recorded with both Piirpauke and the Pekka Pohjola Group, Finnish pioneers of cross-genre music. He and Björkenheim have played together for two decades, most recently in a quartet with Juhani Aaltonen.