For their fourth album Ritual, the Fire! Orchestra has undergone a change in lineup. This isn’t unusual. Many groups, including Pink Floyd, Genesis, The Rolling Stones and even The Beatles’ lineup changed. Usually, this happened when one member of the group left. However, what has happened to the Fire! Orchestra is very different.
In business terms, the Fire! Orchestra have downsized. On their third album Second Exit, the Fire! Orchestra’s lineup numbered twenty-nine. For the recording of their fourth album Ritual, which will be released by Rune Grammofon on 13th May 2016, the Fire! Orchestra “slimmed” their lineup down to just twenty-one members. The newly slimmed down lineup of the Fire! Orchestra recorded Ritual in just two days. This isn’t unusual.
The three previous Fire! Orchestra albums were recorded quickly. It was a case of needs must. Fire! Orchestra features some of the biggest names in Scandinavian music. These musicians are always busy, so albums have to be recorded quickly. This was also the case with the group who gave birth to the Fire! Orchestra in 2011…Fire!
It was in 2009, when the Fire! story began. That was when bassist Johan Berthling, drummer Andreas Werliin and saxophonist Mats Gusfasson decided to form a new band. Fire! was to all intents and purposes a Swedish supergroup. After all Johan, Andreas and Mats were three of Sweden’s finest jazz musicians. Their speciality was free jazz. However, there was a minor problem.
Mats Gustafsson ,Johan Berthling and Andreas Werliin all had busy schedule. So they would have to fit playing and recording as Fire! round their existing schedules and other musical commitments.
Reeds player and saxophonist Mats Gustafsson is the elder statesmen of Fire! He was born in 1964, and has been involved in the Swedish music scene since 1988. Since then, Mats Gustafsson has worked as a musician, arranger, composer, conductor and producer. He’s played and performed on over 200 albums. That’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Currently, Mats Gustafsson is a a member of jazz trio The Thing. However, over the past three decides Mats Gustafsson has collaborated with everyone from Jim O’Rourke to Sonic Youth and Lasse Marhaug. Then there’s the solo albums Mats Gustafsson has released. These solo albums and collaborations add another seventy albums to Mats Gustafsson’s C.V. However, he’s not the only member of Fire! with an impressive C.V.
Just like Mats, bassist Johan Berthling is a veteran of numerous bands. Previously, he’s been a member of Angles, Angles 9, Boots Brown, Nacka Forum, Ohayo, Pipeline, Sten Sandell Trio, Tape, The Godforgottens, The Tiny and Time Is A Mountain. Away from these bands, Johan has worked as a hired hand.
Johan has worked as an arranger, musician, producer and songwriter. Already, he has around 170 credits to his name. When Johan’s not working on other people’s albums, he runs a record label.
In 1999, John and Klas Augustsson founded the Häpna record label. It’s based in Stockholm, and has released nearly sixty releases. This includes albums by Tape, who released their eighth album Casino in 2014. Just like other members of Fire!, Johan has a voracious appetite for making music.
The same can be said of drummer and percussionist, Andreas Werliin. He was born in 1982, and is the youngest member of Fire! Although he’s only thirty-four, Andreas is almost veteran of Swedish music. Andreas has worked as an arranger, musician, singer, songwriter and producer. He’s happy to work as a hired hand, when not been working with the various bands he’s been a member of.
Among the groups that Andreas has played in, are Angles 9, Time Is a Mountain, Tonbruket and Wildbirds and Peacedrums. In both Angles 9 and Time Is a Mountain, Andreas is joined by Johan in the rhythm section. They’ve formed a formidable partnership, since Fire! released their debut album in 2009.
You Liked Me Five Minutes Ago.
You Liked Me Five Minutes Ago was Fire!’s debut album. It showcased what was a new and innovative approach to improvised music. Fire! stepped out of their comfort zone on You Liked Me Five Minutes Ago, seamlessly combining free jazz, psychedelic rock and noise. This was the perfect showcase for the three members of Fire!’s considerable musical skills. Critics were won over by Fire!, and forecast a bright future from the Swedish trio.
Two years later, and Fire! returned with the first collaboration of their career. They had recorded four lengthy improvised pieces with Chicago born, but Tokyo based performer, composer and record producer. He was a veteran of countless collaborations since his career began in the late eighties. Now he was ready to hitch a ride with Fire!
When the album was ready for release in 2011, Fire! received star billing. Fire! With Jim O’Rourke Unreleased? was released on Rune Grammofon. This genre-melting album saw Fire! continue to push musical boundaries, taking the music in hitherto unexpected directions. The collaboration with Jim O’Rourke was regarded as an overwhelming success. So it was no surprise when another artist asked to collaborate with Fire!
In The Mouth-A Hand.
This time, it was Australian experimental electronic guitarist and percussionist, Oren Ambarchi. He was no stranger to collaborations, and previously, had worked a variety of artists, including Keith Rowe. Fire! agreed to the collaboration, and the result was the album In The Mouth-A Hand.
It featured another four lengthy, improvised tracks. This allowed Fire! and Oren Ambarchi to take the listener on a musical adventure, where musical genres and influences were combined. Three of the most prevalent influences were free jazz, noise and psychedelic rock. Just like previous albums, this was a crucial part of Fire!’s sound.
When In The Mouth-A Hand was released on Rune Grammofon, again, Fire! received top billing. They played a huge part in what was another important album collaboration. With Oren Ambarchi, Fire! had created another album of groundbreaking, innovative music. Despite this, Fire!’s next album wasn’t a collaboration. Instead, it featured just the three members of Fire!
By the time, Fire! began work on (Without Noticing), they were regarded as one of the most exciting and innovative groups in the Scandinavian music scene. Fire! had released three albums in three years. Now they were four for four.
When (Without Noticing) was released on Rune Grammofon in 2013, it was hailed a career defining album. It was a fusion of free jazz and psychedelic rock via a more traditional rocky and jazz-tinged sound. Fire! weren’t afraid of pushing musical boundaries, and on (Without Noticing), continued to do so. This resulted in critically acclaimed reviews from critics. However, by then, Fire! had realised the limitations of a trio, and founded the Fire! Orchestra.
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 Fire! Orchestra took just one day to record Enter.
The result was an album of music that critics called innovative and progressive. Enter showcased 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, has a potent, powerful and captivating sound; which succeeded in bringing back memories of musical luminaries like Sun Ra, Charlie Haden’s Liberation Orchestra, Mike Westbrook and Mike McGregor. So successful was Enter, that Fire! Orchestra released one more album.
Just like Exit, Exit Again was another live album. The concert was recorded on 2nd September 2012 at Festival Les Rendez-Vous de L’erdre, in Nantes, France. Joining a slimmed down version of the Fire! Orchestra that night, was guitarist Oren Ambarchi. Joined the great and good of Scandinavian music for what was the Fire! Orchestra’s encore.
When Exit Again was released on 14th January 2014, it was a limited edition release. Only 500 copies of the Exit Again were released on vinyl. Again, the Fire! Orchestra in full flight was an impressive sound. On Second Exit Part One and Second Exit Part Two, the Fire! Orchestra showcase their considerable skills and seamlessly, switch between disparate musical genres. Somehow, it all makes sense, and has the listener wanting to hear more of the Fire! Orchestra. Before that, Fire! would return.
Fire!-She Sleeps, She Sleeps.
Work began on She Sleeps, She Sleeps back in March 2015. That’s when the three members of Fire! recorded the four songs they had written, and would produce.
Recording of She Sleeps, She Sleeps took place at Orionteatern studios in Stockholm. The album was recorded by Mikael Werliin, who also recorded guest artist cellist Leo Svensson Sander at Rud Studios, in Stockholm. Halfway around the world, in Melbourne, Australia, guitarist Oren Ambarchi laid down his parts for She Bid A Meaningless Farewell. Once the sessions were complete, the album was mixed and mastered. Only then was She Sleeps, She Sleeps ready for release.
Eventually, She Sleeps, She Sleeps was scheduled for release on 19th February 2016, by Rune Grammofon. The album was released to widespread critical acclaim. Plaudits and praise accompanied She Sleeps, She Sleeps. I described the album as: “groundbreaking, influential and innovative.” She Sleeps, She Sleeps was also “progressive” and Fire!’s “Magnus Opus.” For the three members of Fire!, this was a good way to start 2016.
After the release of Fire!’s fifth album She Sleeps, She Sleeps, Johan Berthling, Andreas Werliin and Mats Gusfasson’s thoughts turned to the Fire! Orchestra’s new album Ritual. It had already been recorded by the “slimmed down” lineup of the Fire! Orchestra in 2015.
For the Fire! Orchestra’s fourth album Ritual, Johan Berthling, Andreas Werliin, Mats Gusfasson and Mariam Wallentin composed the five part Ritual suite. It examines mysteries and rituals, not just in life, but in music. Ritual featured texts by Erik Lindegren. This included extracts from his poetry books The Man Without A Way and 1942, which when it was published, was heralded as a truly influential piece of work. With Ritual composed, the next step was for the the Fire! Orchestra to record the album.
Recording of Ritual was scheduled to take place at Rixmixningsverket, in Stockholm. That was where the new lineup of the Fire! Orchestra would record the five part Ritual suite. This new lineup saw the Fire! Orchestra slim down from twenty-nine to twenty-one members. Despite its reduced numbers, the Fire! Orchestra were still capable of producing an impressive sound.
Providing Ritual’s heartbeat, were Fire! Orchestra’s rhythm section. This included drummers Andreas Werliin and Mads Forsby; bassist Johan Berthling; and guitarists Finn Loxbo, Julien Desprez. They were joined by keyboardists Edvin Nahlin and Martin Hederos who also played violin. Vocalists included Mariam Wallentin and Ethiopian-born Sofie Jernberg. Add electronics was electro minimalist Andreas Berthling. However, this was only part of the Fire! Orchestra.
The final part of the Fire! Orchestra was the horn section. It included trumpeters Niklas Barnö and Susana Santos Silva; trombonist Mats Äleklint; and tubaist Per Åke Holmlander. They were joined by alto saxophonists Anna Högberg and Mette Rasmussen; baritone saxophonists Jonas Kullhammar, Mats Gustafsson; French hornist Hild Sofie Tafjord; and Lotte Anker who switched between soprano and tenor saxophone. Per ‘Texas’ Johansson played baritone saxophone and also played clarinet. This completed the Fire! Orchestra’s lineup as recorded began on 17th December 2015.
With everyone’s time limited, and Christmas fast approaching the Fire! Orchestra worked quickly, and Ritual was completed by 18th December 2015. It had taken just two days for the Fire! Orchestra to record Ritual. Now the album had to be mixed.
The man tasked with mixing Ritual was Mikael Werliin. He had recorded Ritual with Linn Fijal. So on the 15th and 16th January 2016, Mikael Werliin mixed Ritual at Studio Oodion, Gothenburg. Once Ritual was mixed, the album was mastered by Lupo at Calyx Mastering, Berlin on 5th February 2016. This was the final piece of the jigsaw. Now all that was left was to set a release date.
The date chosen for the release of Ritual was 13th May 2016. That’s when Rune Grammofon will released the Fire! Orchestra’s first album for two long years. Has Ritual been worth the wait, and does the slimmed down lineup of the Fire! Orchestra affect their impressive sound? That’s what I’ll tell you.
Ritual opens with Ritual Part 1, the first part in a five-part suite. Bursts of blazing, scorching horns join the rhythm section in driving the arrangement along. They create an arrangement that’s funky, jazzy and hypnotic.. Panned ninety degrees left is a grinding, buzzing sound. It comes courtesy of electro minimalist Andreas Berthling, and adds an avant-garde influence. Meanwhile, the arrangement continues to build. Then when the horns drop out, the twin vocals of Mariam Wallentin and Sofie Jernberg enter. They’re dreamy, sultry and soulful. Soon, the horns return, rasping, growling and wailing as they head in the direction of free jazz. By then, a crystalline guitar and flourishes of Fender Rhodes have been added. However, it’s the vocals and horns that play starring roles. Then at 5.54 the arrangement becomes understated. Just urgent vocals and percussion combine. This urgency and drama builds, and soon, the Fire! Orchestra are straining at the leash. Before long, it’s impossible to hold them back, and they become an unstoppable force. In full flow, the Fire! Orchestra is an impressive sound, as seamlessly they combine elements of funk, jazz, avant-garde, free jazz and rock.
A scratchy, rasping free jazz saxophone opens Ritual Part 2. Soon, it’s being played quickly and powerfully. It howls, growls and soars above the arrangement. Then at 1.54 a guitar, shimmering cymbals and then the horn section enter. They play as one, while still, the lone wailing saxophone solo unleashes its plaintive and impassioned cry. It’s replaced by an equally impassioned vocal, that veers between soulful to free jazz in style. Meanwhile, the rest of the Fire! Orchestra lock into a groove, and create a hypnotic and sometimes, swinging backdrop. Later, some of the horn section add a New Orleans sound. By then, drums pound thunderously, while hypnotic, rasping, braying horns join the vocals in adding a melodic sound. From there, the horns head in the direction of free jazz, as the arrangement becomes a jam. It’s variously mesmeric, melodic, cinematic, urgent and always captivating. That’s not surprising, given the Fire! Orchestra’s impressive array of talented and innovative musicians.
For the first three minutes of Ritual Part 3, Andreas Berthling unleashes an array of abstract sounds. They buzz, crackle, grind and whirr, as a searing guitar melts into the arrangement. Nothing is as it seems. Later, braying, wailing horns join the myriad of abstract sounds. They whine and growl, before taking their leave, and being replaced by a wailing, scatted vocal. Just like the scratchy violin it becomes part of the bigger picture. Meanwhile, a melancholy French horn plays a lament. It’s joined by subtle, rueful and melancholy horns. As they play, the unmistakable lush sound of a Fender Rhodes plays in the background. Adding other layers of sound are a tuba, drums and beautiful, wistful vocals. Still the horns and drums are restrained, as we hear a very different side to the Fire! Orchestra. Ritual Part 3 is a song of two parts, that shows the Fire! Orchestra at their imaginative and inventive best.
Rolls and pounding drums join crashing cymbals on Ritual Part 4. Then at 2.09, a blistering, searing, scorching guitar is unleashed. It’s played with power and urgency. Fingers fly up and down the fretboard. That the case until a wash of wailing feedback is unleashed. Gradually it dissipates across the arrangement. By then, Andreas Werliin powers his way round his drum kit. Not to be outdone, the rest of the rhythm section join the frae, and drive the arrangement along. So do the twin vocalists. They scat, their vocals soaring above the arrangement. This now includes braying horns. Soon, the scat becomes a soulful vocal, and veers between the two styles. The Fire! Orchestra are in full flight, and it’s a glorious, impressive and melodic sound. Especially with seesaw horns joining the soulful vocals and driving rhythm section. However, at 10.26 the tempo slows, and arrangement almost grinds to a halt by 11.01. From there a melancholy violin joins free jazz horns, as the Fire! Orchestra throw a curveball. In doing so, they showcase their versatility and propensity to innovate.
Closing Ritual is Ritual Part 5. Just the rhythm section and keyboards combine to create a slow, thoughtful backdrop. They’re soon joined by tender, rasping horns. Together they create a moody, cinematic backdrop. A quivering, cooing alto saxophone soars above the arrangement. By then, it’s played with power. That’s the signal for the vocal to enter, and the tempo to rise. The Fire! Orchestra play with more urgency. As they do, all of a sudden a phone rings. This is just the first of an array of sounds that assail the listener. Buzz, crackles and whirs can be heard as the twin vocals and braying horns play starring roles on this beautiful, melodic track. It leaves the listener wanting more.
No wonder. Ritual finds the Fire! Orchestra at their progressive and innovative best. That’s despite the Fire! Orchestra slimming down its lineup from twenty-nine to ‘just’ twenty-one musicians. However, they’re no ordinary musicians.
The Fire! Orchestra features some of the most talented musicians Sweden, Norway, Denmark and France has to offer. When they join the Fire! Orchestra,they become part of a pan European supergroup. It’s featured some of the biggest names in European jazz. However, the lineup is somewhat fluid, and members of the Fire! Orchestra have been ever-present since Johan Berthling, Andreas Werliin and saxophonist Mats Gusfasson formed the Fire! Orchestra back in 2011. Since then, the Fire! Orchestra’s star has been in the ascendancy.
Five years after they first played live, the Fire! Orchestra are now a hugely popular live draw. When they play live, the sold out signs are up. After all, the Fire! Orchestra in full flow, is an impressive sound. That’s the case with each of the three albums the Fire! Orchestra have released. However, three becomes four when the Fire! Orchestra released Ritual on 13th May 2016, on Rune Grammofon. It’s as if everything that’s gone before has been leading up to Ritual, the Fire! Orchestra’s first album since 2014.
Ritual features the five part Ritual suite. It’s a captivating album where the Fire! Orchestra combine avant-garde, experimental, free jazz, funk, jazz and rock. The music veers between restrained and understated to urgent and dramatic. Other times, the music is mesmeric and hypnotic, before becoming melodic and soulful. Occasionally, the music becomes moody, wistful and cinematic. Always, the music is ambitious, experimental and progressive. Just like previous albums, Ritual is imaginative, inventive and innovative. It’s also joyous and uplifting, with the Fire! Orchestra playing with freedom and spontaneity, as they examine mysteries and rituals, not just in life, but in music. This five suite exploration is a musical tour de force from the Fire! Orchestra, Ritual which proves that when it comes to lineups, size isn’t everything.
- Posted in: Avant Garde ♦ Experimental ♦ Free Jazz ♦ Rock
- Tagged: (Without Noticing), Andreas Werliin, Enter, Exit, Exit Again, Fire, Fire! Orchestra, Fire!-Orchestra-Exit., In The Mouth-A Hand, Johan Berthling, Mats Gusfasson, Rune Grammofon, She Sleeps She Sleeps, Unreleased?, You Liked Me Five Minutes Ago