FIRE! ORCHESTRA-ARRIVAL

Fire! Orchestra-Arrival.

Label: Rune Grammofon.

When Mats Gustafsson, Johan Berthling and Andreas Werliin founded the Fire! Orchestra in 2011, it featured twenty-eight musicians and vocalists who were responsible for the ensemble’s impressive sound. Now eight years and as they release their fifth album Arrival on Rune Grammofon, its a slimmed down line-up that appears on the new album.

There’s now “only” fourteen members of the Fire! Orchestra, with slimed down rhythm and horn sections being two of the changes. Another addition is the addition of a string quartet which adds a new dimension to the music. So do two familiar faces, vocalists Mariam Wallentin and Sofia Jernberg have been members of Fire! Orchestra and play a starring role on Arrival. It’s the latest chapter in the Fire! Orchestra story which began in 2009, when another group was formed.

2009 was when bassist Johan Berthling, drummer Andreas Werliin and saxophonist Mats Gusfasson decided to form a  new band which they called Fire! It 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.

Unreleased?

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! 

(Without Noticing).

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.

Fire!-Orchestra-Exit.

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.

Enter.

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.

Exit Again.

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.

Fire! Orchestra-Ritual.

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.

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.

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Arrival.

That is still the case some eight years  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 has been the the case with each of their four previous albums. However, four became five with the release of Arrival, which features the newly slimed down fourteen piece ensemble.

For their fifth album Arrival, Fire! Orchestra recorded seven tracks. Five of these tracks are credited to founder members  Mats Gustafsson, Johan Berthling and Andreas Werliin, but other members of Fire! Orchestra play their part in what s a much more individual set of compositions and songs. These five songs are joined by two peerless cover versions. This includes groundbreaking guitarist Robbie Basho’s Blue Crystal Fire which originally featured on his 1978 album Visions Of The Country. The other cover version is t Last I Am Free which was penned by Chic’s is today probably best known from Robert Wyatt’s version, but originally written by Bernard Edwards and Nile Rogers. However, Robert Wyatt’s version is regarded as the definitive version, but the Fire! Orchestra reinvent the track on an album that is totally different to previous albums which are regarded by some critics as uniform works. However, this time around, Fire! Orchestra change tack and thanks to drummer and producer Andreas Werliin.

He masterminded what is complex album full of detail. where Fire! Orchestra use their all of their muscial palette to create an album that veers between light and shade to sometimes joyous and full of despair and soulful to sultry. Other times, the music is edgy, mystical and otherworldly, but can just as easily be smooth and polished. Arrival is best described as a carefully crafted album that finds Fire! Orchestra seamlessly switching between, and fusing  disparate musical genres. This  includes avant-garde, bop, free jazz, fusion, improv, jazz, Krautrock, progressive rock and even swing as this all-star showcase their considerable talents. They’re   just as happy improvising as they create innovative and inventive music on Arrival,  which  is their finest hour.

Arrival is also  an album that has a warmth and a deep, dynamic mix. This will gladden the heart of everyone who loves good music, and appreciates an album that has been well mixed and  mastered, That is the case with Arrival which marks the return of the slimmed down Fire! Orchestra  as they reach new heights musically and find their true musical identity on a truly  captivating and genre-melting album that is also ambitious, experimental and progressive. Just like previous albums, Fire! Orchestra’s playing on Arrival is imaginative, inventive and innovative as they come of age musically after eight years and five albums.

Fire! Orchestra-Arrival.

 

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