Finnish guitar hero Raoul Björkenheim, as many musicians of his generation, owes John Coltrane a great debt. Coltrane is not only an eternal inspiration but also a model for his conviction, his desire to push boundaries, and his deeply spiritual approach to music and art at all. But only last year, when Björkenheim turned 63 years old he paid his own musical tribute to his musical hero and paragon.
«Solar Wind» quotes Coltrane on its sleeve: «There is never any end. There are always new sounds to imagine; new feelings to get at. And always, there is the need to keep purifying these feelings and sounds so that we can really see what we’ve discovered in its pure state». And Björkenheim follows Coltrane’s spirit, literally, rearranging five of his late period compositions and adds two originals.
«Solar Wind» features a new band of Björkenheim with Italian musicians – violinist Emanuele Parrini, double bass player Silvia Bolognesi and veteran drummer Tiziano Tononi (with whom he collaborated before in The J. & F. Band, «From The Roots To The Sky», Long Song, 2018). The album was recorded at Real Sound Studio, Milano in April 2019.
From the first notes of the opening of «Joy» (originally released posthumously on «Infinity», with Alice Coltrane, Impulse!, 1972) it is clear that this quartet is fully charged with the manic-spiritual, force-of-nature drive of Coltrane. Björkenheim delivers his own kind of fusionist sheets of sound reminiscent of the sound of another guitar hero, the late Sonny Sharrock. But his playing goes way beyond the fusion genre. It offers fusion in its greater sense, that transcends the boundaries between the raw, furious power of rock and the more nuanced and layered work of a jazz musician who is well-versed with the legacy of his hero but is determined to put its personal stamp on it, with a similar kind of devotion and freedom.
The interplay of Björkenheim with his Italian comrades is superb, as all share the ecstatic, cosmic drive of the music. Parrini plays as a second soloist on most parts, triggering Björkenheim to go further and deeper, as on «Transition» (originally from the album by the same name, Impulse!, 1970). «Living Space» (also from «Infinity») soars even further into spacy, cosmic territories, leaving enough space – literally – to the powerful rhythm section of Bolognesi and Tononi.
Björkenheim’s title-piece takes Coltrane’s legacy into the early days of fusion, playing as if he is possessed by a higher force, matched only by another solo of Parrini, and both rely on the Elvin Jones-like drumming of Tononi. «Saturn» (from «Interstellar Space», Impulse!, 1974) remains faithful to the original version, but takes the remarkable duo of Coltrane and drummer Rashied Ali to the 21st century, with its invigorating version of fiery, free jazz arranged for the quartet. «Peace On Earth» (also from «Infinity») is the most emotional piece here, true to the poetic-compassionate essence of the original version and delivered as a cosmic-spiritual hymn, with majestic solos of Björkenheim and Parrini. Björkenheim’s «Volition» closes this inspiring journey with a return to the spiritual, passionate energy of the opening piece.
Raoul Björkenheim (g), Silvia Bolognesi (b), Tiziano Tononi (dr, perc, gong), Emanuele Parrini (vio)