The word Kalabalik means "crowd" or "tumult" in Turkish, "uproar" or "ruckus" in Swedish, and "chaos" in Finnish. Kalabalik also means an exciting trio featuring guitarists Raoul Björkenheim and Anders Nilsson and drummer Gerald Cleaver. The group was originally united in January 2011 for a one-shot performance at Downtown Music Gallery, the New York City oasis for experimental music, but the gig worked out so well that Kalabalik is now an established trio. The six songs on this CD capture the trio's inaugural gig in all its vigor and intensity, a thrilling documentation of what can happen when improvisers ignite.
You really can't go wrong when a group has musicians of this caliber. Powerhouse guitarist Raoul Björkenheim (a Finn who was raised in America until age 15) has been an essential member of the international music scene for over three decades, leading the groups Scorch Trio and Krakatau, and playing with heavy-hitters such as Edward Vesala, Bill Laswell, William Parker, and Hamid Drake. Master drummer and Detroit native Gerald Cleaver is known for his work with Roscoe Mitchell and Henry Threadgill, as well as leading the groups Violet Hour, Farmers By Nature, and Uncle June. Anders Nilsson, who grew up in Sweden and is now based in Brooklyn, has likewise played with a wide range of top-notch musicians, including Mats Gustafsson, Paquito D'Rivera, Michael Formanek, and Fay Victor. Altogether, they're three seasoned improvisers with a wealth of experience and ideas, as well as the ability to weave well with others.
The CD starts off with "Spiraling Skies," a thirteen-minute shape-shift that builds to a furious crescendo; Björkenheim and Nilsson play with enormous strength and vitality, ignited throughout by Cleaver and his boiling polyrhythms. On "Vortex," the group immediately plunges into a high-powered groove with nothing held back; "Incarnation" is a fearless, passionate song, a sizzling journey with plenty of flaming dives, not to mention some pure noise and subatomic excursions; and "Robot Tango" is a metallic courtship of the highest order, a wild intergalactic guitar journey with myriad moods and burning twists. "Saga Raga" is a gentler, more spacious piece, with Cleaver providing quietly simmering accompaniment, and the CD wraps up with "Descension," another meditative piece with beautifully flowing guitar lines that bend and curve and dance.
What's impressive about Kalabalik, both the group and the CD, is the range of expression and the passionate intensity. Even though the three musicians originally came together with no thoughts beyond the gig at hand, it's clear that some kind of serendipity was at work: this is an electrifying group with terrific chemistry, which will surely grow even richer with time.
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