Nov 20 2016
It’d be understandable to overlook all of the tiny transformations of Fire! Orchestra over the course of their last three albums. Their 2013 recording Exit was chaotic fury that exhibited direction only through the power of the music’s overwhelming presence. It was a live performance recording that saw none of its heavy voltage diminished through the recorded medium. Their 2014 release Enter saw the large ensemble hitting the studio. The intensity and wildness and freedom were still present, but bent to the guidance of some cool grooves and melodic signposts, and the music benefited from the tighter sonic bundle. It was also about as thrilling as music ever gets. Their 2016 release Ritual doesn’t relent on the thrilling music, but it does alter the shape of the lens its filtered through.
It also changes up some of the personnel. The breadth of instrumentation remains much the same, but the ensemble brings in different voices from the spectrum of the Swedish music scene. There are other changes, small ones, but resonating strongly and providing their newest album its very own personality. The opening stanza of the five-part work begins with the clenched fist of saxophones belting out the opening statement. This is nothing new. Nothing less should be expected. But it is an interesting development how quickly it pulls back for a seriously infectious groove. Vocalists Sofia Jernberg and Mariam Wallentin sink right into that groove, and their focused intensity is a perfect match for their unconventional lyricism. They don’t coo out the words and this ain’t no love song, but it is music capable of filling a heart with joy. Both the comping and solos steer around the vocals, keeping them the center-point of every little fluctuation. But even here, there’s a serious focus to this music, and the clarity it brings to the music, where its elements are easier to discern within the huge sound… it’s pretty damn compelling, especially in the context of prior recordings. But this isn’t some new dawn in the life of Fire! Orchestra. The end of “Part 1” opens things up again, and the vocalists and soloists show all the wild abandon of past recordings.
A similar pattern occurs on “Part II,” except that the voices of Jernberg and Wallentin dance like candle flames in a stiff breeze, the rhythm section keeps the ensemble on their toes and feet moving fast, and the cross-currents of harmony are delicate and kind and contrast perfectly with the gale force wind of many instruments raising their voices to the skies simultaneously. Again, this is a working unit showing a new facet of their range of expressions, but in no way turning their back on what has come before. “Part III” is arguably the most extreme example of the band’s development. It opens with waves of dissonance and ends with a gentle melodicism. On the other hand, the expressiveness of past recordings bleeds heavily into “Part IV” and “Part V,” the ultimate proof that what is new on Ritual is merely a facet and that the heart of the band still beats strong and with passion.
This is one of the very best working ensembles on the scene.
Your album personnel: Mariam Wallentin, Sofia Jernberg (voices), Niklas Barnö, Susana Santos Silva (trumpets), Mats Äleklint (trombone), Per Åke Holmlander (tuba), Anna Högberg (alto & baritone saxes), Mats Gustafsson (baritone & slide saxes, conductor), Jonas Kullhammar (braithophone, bass & slides saxes), Martin Hederos (keyboards, violin), Johan Berthling (bass), Andreas Werliin, Mads Forsby (drums), Hild Sofie Tafjord (French horn), Mette Rasmussen (alto sax), Lotte Anker (tenor & soprano saxes), Per “Texas“ Johansson (clarinets, baritone sax), Julien Desprez, Finn Loxbo (guitars), Edvin Nahlin (keyboards) and Andreas Berthling (electronics, drums).
Released on the Rune Grammofon label.
Music from Sweden.