Raoul Bjorkenheim's guitar work represents a mature extension of his  presence as a leading guitarist in the Finnish and European experimental jazz and free improvisation movement. Very listenable, engaging, free improvisation, music that speaks of purity, and fragility, beauty, expansion, world community, and imagination, spinning out of intensive commitment to playing.”

— -the-improviser.com (US)


Born in Los Angeles in 1956, Björkenheim has spent his life shuttling between New York and Helsinki, developing a distinctive approach to playing electric guitar and composing for big bands, symphony orchestras, films, modern dance companies and his own groups. 

A year at Helsinki Conservatory and three at Boston’s Berklee College of Music were followed by an intense apprenticeship in the mid-1980’s with Edward Vesala’s Sound & Fury which lasted several years, resulting in Bjorkenheim’s participation in three of the drummer’s recordings, the third one, “Lumi”, for ECM.  Originally an offshoot of Sound & Fury, Björkenheim’s free-jazz ensemble Krakatau hit the scene in the late 80’s, touring and recording four albums, the last two for ECM.  These brought Björkenheim to the attention of the international jazz community, and led to commissions for larger works such as "Primal Mind" for jazz big band and "Apocalypso" for electric guitar orchestra.

Relocating to New York City in 2001, Björkenheim developed an even more extreme edge to his avant garde sensibilities by teaming up with musicians such as William Parker, Hamid Drake and Lukas Ligeti, while also travelling frequently to Europe for gigs with Scorch Trio, featuring the explosive energies of Paal Nilssen-Love and Ingebrigt Haaker Flaten.

Moving back to Helsinki in 2008, Björkenheim’s main performing energies today are channelled through his Finnish groups: the duo with the grand old man of Finnish free jazz Juhani Aaltonen, the trio Triad, the quartet Ecstasy, and the nonet featuring four Senegalese drummers. He also fronts Solar Winds, a quartet with Italian ace musicians.

Björkenheim has been a soloist with the Helsinki Symphony Orchestra, the Avanti Chamber Orchestra, the Radio Symphony Orchestra, the UMO big band and the Tampere philharmonic, and has composed for them all. In 2019 he led the guitar section in a performance of Tyondai Braxton’s orchestral Telekinesis.

Björkenheim has been awarded the Georgie Prize for best jazz musician of the year, the Young Finland Award, the Emma prize for best jazz recording of the year, and been nominated three times for the Nordic Music Award.