The origins of Fire! Orchestra can be traced to Fire! It’s a trio consisting of bassist Johan Berthling, drummer Andreas Werliin and saxophonist Mats Gusfasson. They’re three of Sweden’s finest jazz musicians. Their speciality is free jazz. However, there’s much more to the members of Fire! than that.
They’re far from purists when it comes to jazz. Instead, they’ve an eclectic taste in music. That’s apparent by their music pasts. Each of the members of Fire! have played with a variety of bands. Currently, Johan Berthling is a member of experimental folk-electronica combo Tape. Andreas Werliin is a member of alternative pop duo Wildbirds And Peacedrums and Mats Gusfasson a member of jazz trio The Thing. Despite their very different musical backgrounds, Johan, Andreas and Matt have been making music as Fire! for a number of years. Then in 2011, Fire decided to change direction.
It was in 2011, that the members of Fire decided to expand beyond the core trio. They hit on the idea to expand the group. The way Fire! did this, was to bring onboard the great and the good of Scandinavian jazz, improvisation and avant rock players and vocalists. They called this new musical venture Fire! Orchestra. It was a musical first in Sweden.
The newly named Fire! Orchestra were building on the music of some of the legendary free jazz big bands. This includes the big bands of Sun Ra, Charlie Haden’s Liberation Orchestra, Mike Westbrook and Mike McGregor. There was more to the Fire! Orchestra that free jazz. They incorporated funk, blues, rock and jazz. This became apparent when the Fire! Orchestra made their tentative first steps.
In the beginning, the Fire! Orchestra played just a handful of shows. They were finding their feet musically. Gradually, they were finding their sound. It’s best described as genre-melting and was showcased on their live debut album, Exit.
It was in 2013, when Fire! released their live debut album Exit. Released to widespread critical acclaim, Exit was a genre-melting sound that people wanted to hear more of.
So after playing a couple of concerts early in January 2014, the Fire! Orchestra entered the Svenska Grammofonstudion, in Gothenberg on 10th January 2014. This wasn’t going to be a long session. Instead, the twenty-nine members of the Fire! Orchestra took just one day to record Enter, which will be released by Rune Grammofon on 14th July 2014. The lineup of the Fire! Orchestra included some of the best musicians in Scandinavia.
With twenty-nine members, the Fire Orchestra must have been one of the biggest groups to recently record at Svenska Grammofonstudion, in Gothenberg. Vocalists included Mariam Wallentin, Ethiopian-born Sofie Jernberg and Silverbullit´s Simon Ohlsso. The horn section included trumpeters Niklas Barnö, Magnus Broo and Emil Strandberg, trombonists Mats Äleklint and Per Åke Holmlander. Goran Kajfes played coronet, Anna Högberg alto saxophone, Mats Gustafsson and Elin Larsson tenor sax, Fredrik Ljungkvist and Martin Küchen baritone saxophone and Jonas Kullhammar bass saxophone. Keyboardists included pianist Sten Sandell and Martin Hederos on Fender Fhodes and organ. Fire! Orchestra’s rhythm section included drummers Raymond Strid, Johan Holmegard and Andreas Werliin, bassists Joel Grip, Dan Berglun and Johan Berthling on electric bass. Guitarists included Sören Runolf, David Stackenäs and David Stackenäs who also played lap steel. They were joined by Christer Bothén on bass clarinet and guimbri, while Joachim Nordwall took charge of electronics. This was the lineup of Fire! Orchestra which recorded Enter, which I’ll tell you about
Enter opens with Enter Part One, a near fourteen minute epic. A wistful, mesomorphic rock guitar combines with a buzzing bass to set the scene for an ethereal vocal from Mariam Wallentin. Her vocal is yin to the arrangement’s yang. Both are sparse and compelling. Before long, braying horns and Simon’s tender vocal add to the melancholy sound. Gradually, the arrangement unfolds. A vocal soars above the arrangement. The soul-baring vocals play a crucial part in the track’s sound and success. Soon, searing, scorching rocky guitars enter. Along with the rest of the Fire! Orchestra they combine classic rock with jazz, blues, soul and free jazz. Later, when the vocals drop out, blistering guitars feedback. It’s as if the ghost of Jimi Hendrix has made a welcome return. There’s even a nod to Neil Young’s experimental opus Arc. After that, this genre-melting track takes a number of twists and turns. It becomes theatrical, dramatic, innovative, experimental and impassioned. Still the vocal is at the heart of the track. It’s a cathartic outpouring of emotion, drama and frustration. There’s even a nod to Kate Bush in her prime. Along with wailing horns and a pounding rhythm section, it leads this dramatic, free jazz jam to its dramatic crescendo.
Eerie and sinister describes the whispery vocal that’s panned left as Enter Part Two unfolds. Meanwhile, the driving rhythm section combine elements of classic rock, Krautrock and jazz. Blistering, scorching horns and a Doors’ inspired organ prove the perfect backdrop for Simon’s vocal. It veers between emotive to vampish and becomes a stream of consciousness. At one point, it’s the equivalent of Primal Scream Therapy. It’s as if the rest of the Fire! Orchestra are helping him to exercise his demons. In doing so, they combine post punk, Krautrock, free jazz, funk, classic rock and free jazz. This glorious melange is hypnotic and mesmeric. Then it’s all change, as the track becomes a frenetic fusion of avant garde, experimental and industrial. After that, Fire! Orchestra return to their jazz roots. From a traditional, sultry sound, the track slowly heads in the direction of dramatic, moody free jazz, with the Fire! Orchestra at their innovative best.
As Enter Part Three unfolds, Fire! Orchestra take you in a new direction. It’s not so much a vocal that opens the track. Instead, it’s a series of scatted, avant garde sounds. They’re dramatic, impassioned and soul-baring, they’re accompanied by a myriad of percussion. Again, it’s as if demons are being exorcised. Then after five minutes, the track begins to unfold. A Fender Rhodes joins the rhythm section and percussion. The vocal takes on a much more orthodox sound. Free jazz horns sweep in, quivering and shivering, blazing and braying. Their raison d’être is to ensure the arrangement swings along. It does. Meanwhile, the vocal becomes powerful, veering between bluesy, jazz-tinged and soulful. Later, it becomes a cathartic confessional. At that point, the arrangement is stripped bare. A myriad of grizzled, rasping horns carry along the vocal, until like the arrangement, it reaches a dramatic crescendo. By then, the vocal is spent and exhausted by the effort and emotion, expelled during this cathartic confessional.
Closing Enter is Enter Part Four, the shortest track on the album. It comes in at just under nine minutes. Straight away, the Fire! Orchestra combine blues and classic rock. The rhythm section join keyboards in providing the backdrop for the trio vocalists. They’re accompanied by jazz-tinged horns. Along with the rhythm section and keyboards, they provide a hypnotic, groove-laden track. This is another side to the Fire! Orchestra. Their fusion of jazz, blues and classic rock is peerless. Especially when combined with the dreamy, soulful delights of the three vocalists. Add to that scorching, blistering rocky guitar. The longer the track goes on, the better the Fire! Orchestra become. It’s as if they’re determined to leave you wanting more. That’s what they do. They build the drama, combining musical genres, before stripping the arrangement bare, leaving you with the melancholy sound of the Fender Rhodes. What a way for Fire Orchestra to close their debut studio album Enter.
As debut albums go, Enter is one of the best I’ve heard during the last few years. Through the four tracks on Enter, Fire! Orchestra spring a series of surprises. They take you places you never expect to go. Not only that, but Enter is a mood altering album. One minute it’s wistful and melancholy, the next it’s dramatic, dreamy and ethereal. Sometimes, the music on Enter is joyous and uplifting, the next it’s heartbreaking and guaranteed to tug at your heartstrings. Much of that is down to the vocals.
Fire! Orchestra’s vocalists include Mariam Wallentin, Ethiopian-born Sofie Jernberg and Silverbullit´s Simon Ohlsso. Each of them, play a huge part in the albums sound and success. Their vocals are impassioned, heartfelt, ethereal, soul-baring and sometimes, the equivalent to a cathartic confessional. Confession they say, is good for the soul. That’s definitely the case here, as the vocals veer between bluesy, jazz-tinged and soulful. Sometimes, they draw inspiration from Afro-beat, avant garde and experimental music. Along with the rest of Fire! Orchestra, the three vocalists play their part in a truly groundbreaking album, Enter.
The best way to describe Fire! Orchestra’s debut album Enter is innovative and progressive. It’s also an album that will influence a new generation of musicians. Enter showcases the sound of the twenty-nine members of the Fire! Orchestra in full flight. This was an impressive sound. Especially given their fusion of mesomorphic rock rhythms, funk, free jazz and the bluesy, soul-baring vocals of the Fire! Orchestra’s three vocalists. Add to this the scorching free jazz saxophone of Joe McPhee and Enter, which will be released by Rune Grammofon on 14th July 2014 has a potent, powerful and captivating sound.
Enter is definitely an album that makes a big impression. It was written and produced by the three members of Fire! They’re just the latest in a long line of hugely talented Swedish musicians I’ve written about. However, it’s not just Swedish musicians that feature in the Fire! Orchestra! No. Fire! Orchestra features some of the top Scandinavian musicians. They joined forces in the Fire! Orchestra to record Enter, a groundbreaking, genre-melting album featuring ambitious, innovative and progressive music.