Krakatau: Volition (ECM 1466)

Krakatau
Volition

Raoul Björkenheim guitars, shekere
Jone Takamäki tenor saxophone, krakaphone, toppophone, whirlpipe
Uffe Krokfors acoustic bass
Alf Forsman drums
Recorded December 1991 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Steve Lake

After the blazing kick in the seat of Matinale, my expectations for Krakatau’s follow-up were high. But from the whirlpipes and ritualistic drums that open “Brujo” I realized that expectations have no place in a sound-world like this. Guitarist Raoul Björkenheim, tenor man Jone Takamäki, bassist Uffe Krokfors, drummer Alf Forsman: the four enfant terribles of this outfit play like nobody’s business, adding to their milieu self-made instruments like the throaty, frog-like toppophone and the krakaphone, a long-lost cousin of the didgeridoo. From the get-go, Björkenheim’s smoky enigmas unleash dreams of furtive energy, leaving us wanting more and getting it in the title track. This one drios a rough tenor into scurrying drums before squeegeeing out an equally gut-wrenching guitar solo, which plants us on a straight shot toward the ethereal “Nai.” Takamäki rips the night again in “Bullroarer,” setting off a free jazz extravaganza I can only describe as gorgeous. “Changgo” gets psychoanalytic on us, turning the gears of a giant jack-in-the-box that never pops, but rather brings out hidden anticipations. And by the time we’ve passed through the wall of sound that is “Little Big Horn,” we are ready for anything the final cut, “Dalens Ande,” might have to offer. Another stunning set from some of ECM’s most underappreciated outliers, Volition is dripping with exactly that. The sonic equivalent of a double shot, save this one for a depressing day and it will be sure to pick you up. Then again, it might send you down the rabbit hole.

Krakatau: Matinale (ECM 1529)

 

Krakatau
Matinale

Raoul Björkenheim guitars, bass recorder, gong
Jone Takamäki tenor, alto, soprano and bass saxophones, krakaphone, reed flute, wooden flute, bell
Uffe Krokfors double-bass, percussion
Ippe Kätkä drums, gongs, percussion
Recorded November 1993 at Hardstudios, Winterthur
Engineer: Martin Wieland
Produced by Steve Lake

Krakatau is an ever-exciting fusion project from Finland that left two broad gasps on ECM. Matinale was the second, and remains the more politically astute of the pair. Guitarist Raoul Björkenheim is the main compositional force behind the album, and leads a quartet of hip multi-instrumentalists squared out by reedman Jone Takamäki, bassist Uffe Krokfors, and drummer Ippe Kätkä. The title track emerges from the gates with a blast of fresh energy in which Björkenheim and Takamäki dominate the left and right channels vying for the middle ground, which has been claimed as the rhythm section’s sole territory. Steve Lake’s deft production and Martin Wieland’s pointed mixing only enhance this plus sign, for the album is indeed all about the additions each musician brings to bear on this visceral studio date: (1) Björkenheim, a distorted and bubbling cauldron of emotional whiplash, (2) Kätkä, a persistent flavor one can’t quite brush out, (3) Krokfors, a counterweight to the constant threat of imbalance, (4) Takamäki, a smoothness that can be buttery yet also knows how to crack a wry smile now and then.

Three improv sessions follow this opening chunk. Krokfors’s bass hums like a sleeping whale through the roiling gong and windy shores of “Unseen Sea Scene,” dreaming of the Chinese gong and reeds of “Jai-Ping.” Björkenheim interrogates his lucrative solo here like some criminal aria, matching Takamäki’s incisions drop for drop until they are bled dry. “Rural,” on the other hand, is a bass-heavy piece that manages to be light on its feet, borne along by an entourage of low reeds.

After a mournful intro, “For Bernard Moore” blossoms into life through a frenetic bass and cymbals. It fast-forwards through that life with a lush sax solo, only to be retold by a tighter guitar line. Excellent stuff. Yet at twelve and a half minutes, the album’s meta-statement is “Sarajevo.” Björkenheim opens with something like a folk song before pressing onward into a viscous and sometimes morose landscape of ruin. This is a portrait in stark color of a body whose language is a bowed head. Sounding here like the vamp of a carnival organ slowed into frightening pathos, and there like a body struggling to be heard from under the rubble of a senseless act of destruction, it seeps into the bones like empathy. To keep us from falling too far, “Suhka” offers a dance of light on water by enacting the very song that has set it into motion. To finish, our fearless foursome slake a “Raging Thirst” with undeniable conviction.

Matinale reshuffles its own formula with every cut, and provides a window into Krakatau’s uniquely personal process. Don’t overlook it.