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Raoul Bjorkenheim, Bill Laswell and Morgan Agren - Blixt (2011)

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Sounding something like neo-prog meets outjazz, the music of Raoul Bjorkenheim, Bill Laswell and Morgan Agren is just as interesting for what it does as what it doesn't do.

For all of the joys of their ear-melting inferno “Black Whole," the opening cut on Blixt, this power trio is also more than capable of downshifting into brilliantly coiled moments like “Shifting Sands Closing Hour," with its mysterious far-east feel. They dash through the rumbling angular mysteries of “Moon Tune," but also boldly explore a gangly conspiratorial twilight in “Invisible One." This is an album of muscular inventiveness—often played hard, and sometimes quite fast—but it never gets too far afield from the nuances and textures that give Blixt its creative heft.

Guitarist Björkenheim, who has released four terrific albums with the Scorch Trio, shows an impressive range, moving with deft ease between eddying distortion, crackling riffs and these atmospheric asides—all the while never losing his grasp of the composition's broader conception. Bassist Laswell, long a figure in the punk/jazz movement, is fierce yet often lightly shaded—weaving a tapestry of finely controlled timbre and dynamics as Björkenheim moves off into the night. Finally, there's drummer Agren. A Grammy winner for his work with Zappa's Universe, Agren is a persistent, challenging force on Blixt, so reminiscent of Tony Williams in the way he can shove the others through the harmonic transitions—something a pianist might do on another project.

Together, they fashion an endlessly intriguing interplay, like a story shared wordlessly. That might be best heard on “Ghost Strokes," as Björkenheim uses a simmering Latin-tinged signature to propel the group from a quiet initial intrigue toward a surging conclusion. Laswell and Agren eventually settle into a furious groove, playing with the frightful inevitability of nightfall, while Björkenheim works himself into the crevices of sound. His guitar carries the narrative—sorting through a sweeping range of emotions, from the desperate to the angry, sounding like an accusation and then a sigh—while this grinding din billows up around him.

There is a sense of controlled wonder to the proceedings, here and throughout the album. Blixt is a densely constructed storm, with thunder being just one element.


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