Expressionism Painted with a Jazz Guitar


{mosimage}Raoul was born in Los Angeles when his mother, the Finnish actress Taina Elg, worked for Metro Goldwyn Mayer in Hollywood. However, he was raised in New York, where he started to get interested in music. “There was so much to hear: the Art Emsemble, the Sam Rivers trio, Dave Holland… I got a lot of energy from that music”. As many other jazz musicians from New York have said, Björkenheim admits that the scene there is not as good at the moment: “You might make more money playing in the streets than in a jazz club”.

Although he’s educated in jazz music, Jimi Hendrix is still one of Björkenheim’s heroes. “If anybody asks me who the best jazz guitar player is, I always say Hendrix. The best guitar solo is Machine Gun”. But there is another great influence in Raoul’s playing and that does not come from any guitarist: “I like saxophone players more and John Coltrane is still the most expressive. I don’t try to copy him, but the spirit is something that I try to emulate”. With this influence, Raoul’s guitar-playing showcases textures and sounds that could get a definition similar to expressionism. Sometimes, like with the project Scorch Trio, the approach is close to violence when doing some improvisation. “But it’s in the sense of expressionism, not just to make noise and play loud. {quotes}Maybe we play too loud. Do we?{/quotes}”

Finland was always part of Raoul’s background. In the eighties he moved back to Helsinki and became very active in the jazz scene at the time. For eight years he worked at the jazz department of the Sibelius Academy. “I was the crazy man of the village”, he says. “We did a lot of free improvisation stuff. There I got to meet a lot of young guitar players that now are big names, like Jarno Saari and Kalle Kalima.”

In December, Raoul Björkenheim will premiere a new piece for full symphony orchestra with the Tampere Philharmonic Orchestra. “There will be echoes of African and Javanese music in this concerto for orchestra, with the percussion section playing an important role and each instrumental section having important solos to contribute.”

Photo © Maarit Kytöharju