Ones That Nearly Got Away
The second in this short “catch ‘em while you can” series was also released on the impressive Rune Grammofon label, and saw the light of day back in May. I caught on two weeks ago!
Fire! are a heavy saxophone-led jazz-rock trio from Sweden, and they occasionally augment their line-up with keyboards and a full brass/reeds section to become Fire! Orchestra, a completely different and utterly compelling proposition. This is the first Fire! Orchestra release to vibrate my stylus, and boy have I found something here!
Fire! already having released albums in collaboration with avant-rock luminaries such as Jim O’Rourke and Oren Ambarchi, 2011 saw the first Fire! Orchestra assembled, and two years later a 28-headed beast under that name released Exit, by all accounts a monstrously weighty but never unwieldy affair that merged exploratory rock and jazz in the finest traditions of avant-jazz ensembles of the past. Sun Ra is referred to.
Here we are then, some six years later, and the hydra has had a head reduction of 50%, and a mere 14 people groove in a thoroughly unexpected, loose-limbed, and Kosmische fashion on Arrival, a double album of glorious sounds and impressive heft. The huge beast of previous Orchestras is trimmed back in all areas, and a string section is added. The result is a living, breathing thing that combines songcraft with electronic rumbles and free jazz splurges, which seem to sneak out of an otherwise tightly contained and structured construct like schoolkids playing truant.
A symphonic bent lends the opening of Blue Crystal Fire an eerie menace as bass and contrabass clarinets rumble an intro to the high-register ultra-clear tones of one of the twin female voices (Mariam Wallentin or Sofia Jernberg, who also contribute the impressionistic lyrics, most by Wallentin) as she intones the poem, a butterfly dancing above flame-haze, before the theme returns and builds. This is lovely, and an example of one of many stylistic leaps this record takes with supreme confidence. The previous epic-length Weekends (The Soil Is Calling) was built on an alien funky shimmying beat, with all manner of instrumental derring-do and vocal syncopation on top, morphing into a coruscating saxophone free jazz excursion, before the rhythm and the song returns to take it home. The following Silver Trees commences with a sparse free jazz that becomes a delicate ballad, unfolding slowly through its quarter-hour using a repeated plucked motif on the violin as the base and introduction to some fine ensemble playing and songcraft, the twin vocalists adding another layer to the cake, repetition hanging in a hypnotic air. These three tracks hint at the vast territory covered by this unusual and enticing group, and also present plenty of evidence that Fire! Orchestra are in deep commune with the Earth goddess, as a significant female element in the band balances out its more male egocentric inclinations. This is an earthy record, oh yes!
A minimalistic simplicity in arrangement gives plenty of room for expansion and exploration throughout Arrival, as the primal chant of Dressed in Smoke. Blown Away attests, moving onwards by increment, exuding the feminine power that weaves its way through Arrival as an enticing perfume. The free skronk of the saxes is kept on a short leash, as the song makes its stately progress, assured in its majesty. Bewitching violins begin an unanswerable conversation, the bass line unchanging, Mariam and Sofia dancing voices around a maypole. There is a primal pull about this record that cannot fail to engage anyone with a soul.
The album ends with a cover of Chic’s At Last I Am Free, a song I first became aware of with Robert Wyatt’s version on Rock Bottom back in 1978. This version owes much to the pathos of Robert’s interpretation, the similar but slightly more expansive arrangement coasting on mournful cellos and keyboards, leaving not a dry eye in the house. Gorgeous!
Another immense release from Rune Grammofon, and like I did, buy this with Krokofant’s Q, and you won’t regret it! While you’re there, pre-order the new Fire! Orchestra album, Actions, out in February. No rest for the wicked!
01. [A1] (I Am A) Horizon (13:04)
02. [B1] Weekends (The Soil Is Calling) (11:12)
03. [B2] Blue Crystal Fire (7:31)
04. [C1] Silver Trees (15:45)
05. [D1] Dressed In Smoke. Blown Away (8:59)
06. [D2] (Beneath) The Edge Of Life (2:56)
07. [D3] At Last I Am Free (6:42)
Total Time – 68:11
Mariam Wallentin – Voice
Sofia Jernberg – Voice
Anna Lindal – Violin
Josefin Runsteen – Violin
Katt Hernandez – Violin
Leo Svensson – Cello
Susana Santos Silva – Trumpet
Per Texas Johansson – Oboe, Bass & Contrabass Clarinets
Christer Bothén – Bass & Contrabass Clarinets
Isak Hedtjärn – Bb Clarinet, Alto Saxophone
Mats Gustafsson* – Baritone Saxophone
Tomas Hallonsten – Keyboards
Johan Berthling* – Bass & Electric Bass
Andreas Werlin* – Drums
Record Label: Rune Grammofon
Country of Origin: Sweden
Date of Release: 24th May 2019