Bill Laswell, Raoul Björkenheim and Morgan Ågren launch the supergroup Blixt
Guitarist Raoul Björkenheim, drummer Morgan Ågren and bassist Bill Laswell are one of the latest super groups to emerge in the sonically implosive hybrids of all the bands that Laswell has accumulated over the years. This super group is called Blixt and the sonic degree and variance hits you at 1000 miles per hour as total carnage breaks loose from the harmonies that transpire. On the latest record released with Silver Spring, Maryland based label Cuneiform Records, Blixt have offered a statement with only a few resting spots to breath and the rest is a savage cyclone of musical exaltation. It always seems like every few years, if not every year, Bill Laswell has gathered the talents of some of the most diverse and technically adept musicians around. Each project serves a different purpose for the endless amount of electronics, gear, pedals, rack mounts, and other production tools Laswell has at his disposal. His knowledge of music from all over the world and not just “world” music is unparalleled. I have never heard anything he has had his hands that didn’t create timeless statements steeped in musicality that stretches the globe. His groups Tabla Beat Science, Material, Painkiller, Praxis, Massacre and Last Exit are genre defining groups; having left an imprint of the highest level on improvisatory, world and experimental settings. His resume for production credits, music contributions and more are in numbers some wouldn’t even believe.
With Raoul Björkenheim and Morgan Ågren, Laswell enlisted the talents of some of the most outward thinking and advanced musicians for this new super group Blixt. The release of their self titled debut full length this fall has created a wave of excitement for all fans of Laswell’s work and we are among that wave. On Blixt, the odd shapes and angular flow of shattering sonic substance from groups like Massacare and Last Exit are reintroduced along side the atonal feedback that Hendrix was known for in numbers like ‘Machine Gun‘ and ‘ I Don’t Live Today‘. When you hear the blistering shock waves of mountainous guitar sheets that are captured on Blixt by guitarist Raoul Björkenheim you know that this guy is in a league akin to a list as diverse as John McLaughlin, Sonny Sharrock, Jimi Hendrix and Buckethead. There is a weight captured in the way the album was recorded that sheds light to the genius of Laswell as a producer and a musician of many ways. The thickness of the mix really overwhelms the listen in the best way with a feeling that is as intense as a live show. Laswell’s bass tone rumbles in a midst of the freenzy and torrent of devastating annihilation that is served up from the drum kit of Morgan Ågren. 16th notes and syncopated phrasing splash in every direction as Laswell stretches the limitations of the low end very cleverly, always keeping time and an anchor but shooting outward with his impressive set of effects.
Improvisations from the hands of the men from Blixt could easily be labeled as composition if the notes didn’t reveal that much of this was created through improvising. Everyone commands their instrument in a very deep and powerful way. With associations that tie all three of these musicians over the last few decades, the level of music achieved with Blixt makes sense as the sessions to complete the album were done in a very short time. For anyone into super groups and musicians of the highest caliber that can create compositions as powerful as they can with improvisational spontaneity, Blixt is a really good opportunity to feel that part of your love for music. To simply put it, it’s the kind of groups dreams are made of. Cream and Emerson, Lake and Palmer are two perfect examples of groups that reflect how Blixt has been put together. Hammered out in a very short window as a group recording, the live feel of the record stays through and little over dubs are used for the record. The beginning piece ‘Black Whole”, a nice play on words I might add, starts with guitar player Raoul Björkenheim doing a magnificent effects heavy solo intro that is shortly washed away in the first building section of the song. This then gives way to the exploratory section of the song and the first introduction to how they crescendo and build together. It’s unreal how they follow each other and play off one another and retain the quality of a studio recording. With all the rawness intact that you would expect from a recording made this way, Bill Laswell and his band mates fly from idea to idea with the ease heard in recordings from the best.
I had the name of Swedish drum prodigy Morgan Ågren in my head before this project but could not connect the dots until I did some research and found out he had played with Frank Zappa, Terry Bozzio and many other greats from the 80’s and on. He also contributed work to the Grammy Ward winning 1994 release Zappa’s Universe. Morgan Ågren implanted himself at a very early age around some of the brightest minds in music and you can hear every single trace of that history in the works he has given to Blixt. He is always exploring his kit and provides the most natural and tasteful selections. In the song ‘Tools’, there is a phenomenal drum intro from Morgan Ågren that displays his genius level technique. Raoul Björkenheim is a guitarist who is much like Morgan in that he is one of the most explosive and trained in his field, yet is under the radar in many respects to modern music culture. His guitar antics and acrobatics are aggressively beautiful and attribute as much to the past as they do the future.
Blixt really stretches the groups limitations in the 11 minute piece ‘Invisible One’. To hear how they attack and mold the slow bubbling rhythm is out of this world. The song that really turns the page and shows the most unique presentation when compared to the entire body of work in Blixt is the number ‘Ghost Strokes’. With a long guitar solo guitar passage, the song builds on a very open and strident recycled theme that allows Raoul Björkenheim to explore his guitar in every way imaginable. Laswell and Ågren stay close to the pocket with Ågren beautifully adding in touches of ghost notes. The depth on each song can be masked by the repeated note configurations but this music is highly complex and relies on the most subtle dynamic changes and filling positions with the drums and bass. The closing number ’10 4-4-4-4-2-2-2-5-2′ is a ferocious and grimacing ending to a very dynamic ride. Laswell and Ågren begin things slowly and by the time Björkenheim fully displays his techniques, you are fully encased inside orchestrated madness through sound. Guitar slides upward and slices pieces of the mix with it as it explores further inside this dark hole. There is no turning back at this point and Björkenheim goes off in a way few guitar players could even imagine going. Laswell pushes the song to the furthest limitation before everything breaks a part from the velocity they are traveling. The closest thing I could wrap my mind around describing this sound is new age speed jazz and experimental space rock, or more honestly something unlike anything I have ever heard in my life.
Cuneiform Records has officially closed out their last quarter and Blixt is a part of the last batch they launched. The label is one of the strongest in the experimental scene and Blixt tops anything they have presented thus far. With no lyrics and only a landscape of music to absorb, it’s the perfect ride for anyone who enjoys all the conceptual building to rely in the music itself. Bill Laswell will go down in history as one of the most prolific musicians ever and not only just of this generation. Like Laswell, Raoul Björkenheim and Morgan Ågren are an equal musical force and have proven themselves to be just as innovative and important to modern music history as Laswell has been. Blixt is yet another window into why the legacy of Laswell will never be touched.
- Black Whole
- Moon Tune
- Cinque Roulettes
- Shifting Sands Closing Hour
- Ghost Strokes
- Invisible One
- Drill Beats
- 10 4-4-4-4-2-2-2-5-2