Dec 31 2014
Bird is the Worm 2014 Album of the Year: Fire! Orchestra – “Enter”
Enter is a massive creative statement. Everything Fire! Orchestra does is Big. The rises and falls of intensity have an epic presence. It also possesses an attention to detail, and no matter how big the sound becomes, it finds a way to reflect all the nuance and details of the varied musics that influence this thrilling album. It is challenging music that cloaks itself in a pop music persona. It’s why the clashes of dissonance and chaotic waves of intensity don’t detract from the album’s personable nature… not unlike how Tom Waits’ gravelly voice can sing perfectly of heartbreak, home, loneliness and love with more genuineness than any pop star.
No matter how many times the album is played, its impact is no less resonant or affecting. The avant-garde big band Fire! Orchestra goes all-in on Enter, guided by an astute intelligence and powered by a huge heart. Released on Rune Grammofon.
The Bird is the Worm 2014 Album of the Year
Here is a reprint of the album recommendation I wrote earlier this year…
The trio of Mats Gustafsson, Johan Berthling and Andreas Werliin has expanded into something much more than its original vehicle for improvisatory music. Now repped as Fire! Orchestra, the 25+ member ensemble is reminiscent of avant-garde big bands from the previous century, but their infusions of pop music and avant-rock keep this music planted in the soil of Today. Their previous album, Exit, presented the ensemble in a live setting. I used to think that it was a thrilling album. But now, after spending the better part of this year listening to their 2014 studio release Enter, that live recording just doesn’t hold quite the same magic it once did.
Enter is about as thrilling as it gets.
And whereas the ensemble brings to the studio the same combustible personality and the dense walls of dissonance and harmonies, they produce a tighter sonic bundle, whereas the live recording tended more to formlessness and wandering. But don’t misinterpret… thankfully, Fire! Orchestra is still all over the place, but there is a greater sense of focus and unison in how they go about it. The term “organized chaos” is undoubtedly apt… a crowd of moving parts in perpetual states of collision, and yet possessing a pop music sensibility that makes this recording supremely embraceable.
“Part One” begins with the slow exhalation of melody, growing increasingly combustible. The lovely harmony of voices ignites into a flash of dissonance, returning only later, now heavy with the blues and not a little bit aggressive. The dissonance lights back up, this time with horns and saxes providing the flame while bass and drums go to town.
“Part Two” grinds out a catchy groove, which, in turn, gives way to a wall of dissonance… the sound of a bank of circuitry crashing down, lacking subtlety, a hard unforgiving poetry. But this is just another moment for a big reveal, as the dissonance sputters out and the peaceful harmony of wind instruments fills the void. It’s these shifting tides and the way listenability isn’t sacrificed for raw energy that elevates the album up a notch or three. The build-up to the grand finale inches forward, gaining strength through accretion and perseverance.
“Part 3″ is all about the vocal experimentalism, in particular how voices and woodwind shrieks become almost indistinguishable, leaving the ears to figure out who is true and who is the chameleon. The rising tides go out with one final big wave, and that it crests heavy with the blues makes all of the unconventional sounds and expressions sound comfortingly familiar.
In the 90s, a group of disparate artists made a proclamation about a new movement. They called it Avant-Pop, and its goal was one in which challenging art, rich with complexities and nuance, would be shrouded in a populist sensibility, and thus subversively become entrenched in the minds and hearts of the masses. When I hear a song like “Part 4,” I can’t help but think that this was something that the Avant-Pop creators had in mind. A delectable melody, cooed out by vocalists and shouted out by instruments, an easy melody to ride as an army of avant-garde musicians march an avant-garde album to a close… with a song that seems almost simple, a final impression on an album that is anything but. The song repeats that catchy melody, sometimes gently, sometimes in a powerful surge, and the song’s momentum becomes almost mesmerizing as a result. The final surge, however, is sufficiently fierce to break any hypnotic state, but, amazingly, the song retains its tunefulness amidst the jarring intensity of the finale. It’s amazing, until one considers that Fire! Orchestra began doing it right from the album’s first note.
Immeasurable and transcending classification, this is creativity that crashes through boundaries and preconceptions. So damn good.
Your album personnel: Mariam Wallentin, Sofia Jernberg, Simon Ohlsson (voices), Goran Kajfes (cornet), Niklas Barnö, Magnus Broo, Emil Strandberg (trumpets), Mats Äleklint (trombone), Per Åke Holmlander (tuba), Anna Högberg (alto sax), Mats Gustafsson (tenor sax, conductor), Elin Larsson (tenor sax), Fredrik Ljungkvist (baritone sax, clarinet), Martin Kuchen (baritone sax), Christer Bothén (bass clarinet), Jonas Kullhammar (bass sax), Andreas Söderström (lap steel), Sören Runolf (electric guitar), David Stackenäs (electric & acoustic guitars), Martin Hederos (Fender Rhodes, organ), Sten Sandell (keyboards, mellotron), Joachim Nordwall (electronics), Johan Berthling (electric bass), Joel Grip, Dan Berglund (basses), and Andreas Werliin, Johan Holmegard, Raymond Strid (drums).
Released on Rune Grammofon.
Music from the Scandinavian scene.
Available at: Amazon
You can also purchase directly from the label, Rune Grammofon.
Apr 22 2019
Fire! at Big Ears Festival 2019: Way down in your bones
I’ve enjoyed some Brötzmann recordings in my time. Hell, the discovery continues into the present day. But I never truly appreciated the man’s artistry or the absolutely power of his sonic delivery until I saw him live. It occurred in a small church in Lexington, KY, out on North Limestone and years before that neighborhood became the darling of the real estate industry. Peter Brötzmann teamed up with vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz, and the way the icy tones of that percussion clashed and melted into the searing heat of Brötzmann’s saxophone was like nothing I’d experienced before. There was an immediacy to his sound that the recorded medium never could accurately relay in its totality. But it was revelatory of more than just pure power. Hearing this music live also illuminated how nimble Brötzmann could be, even on an instrument like bass clarinet, whose sound typically shines as displays of heavy soul, not delicate turns of phrase. That being said, all of that still came secondary to Brötzmann’s ability to brutalize the laws of physics with his saxophone, like he was ripping apart reality at the seams or threatening to obliterate the walls and bring the whole building crashing down.
These thoughts were bouncing around in my head as I watched Fire! perform at The Standard on Friday night. This was my first opportunity to see them live. The raw strength and driving intensity displayed by the trio didn’t come as a surprise. I have a far greater familiarity with the music of Mats Gustaffson and his various Fire! ensembles than I do Brötzmann. Fire! Orchestra is a fixture of my listening routine. I knew what I was getting into when the trio of saxophonist Mats Gustafsson, bassist Johan Berthling and drummer Andreas Werliin took the stage at midnight. But the live setting meant I would feel the music, that it would pound away at my heart at the same time it was bleeding into my ears. It’s an entirely different experience. And it’s about more than the trio’s devastating power. At times, they enter fugue-like states when the music grows more moody than manic. Their sonic barrage can take on a trance-like quality, a high-intensity hypnosis where volatility becomes the catalyst of expectation and resolution. But, yeah, the best part is feeling when the music shakes the earth beneath the feet. And a packed house at The Standard on Friday night got shook that way, very late into the night.
Fire! released a new album last year. The Hands was a return to the core sound that eventually expanded into their Fire! Orchestra recordings, and it was what they brought to the stage at the stroke of midnight. The Standard is actually a very bright and airy type of venue, one where the sunlight can lead to some pretty opportune ambiance depending on what kind of event is going on. But the festival had no difficulty retrofitting the sonic intensity of Fire! into the space. They partitioned off one section and gave the stage a deliciously claustrophobic feel, making it so that no matter where you stood, the trio’s sonic blows could reach out and smack you. The lights sliced through the air, leading to some strategizing on the best place to stand so they didn’t fry your pupils. Gustafsson, Berthling and Werliin began with a display of patience, slowly building up to the moment when they’d explode into flight. And, eventually, after some electronic effects from Gustafsson ended and his saxophone began, they unleashed everything they had inside. It was as thrilling as their trio recording promised, but, damn, you could feel it in your bones.
This trio’s music gets slotted in the Jazz category for any number of reasons, but, seriously, for any reason you go see a rock concert, those same reasons apply to the Fire! trio. Their show in Knoxville was Exhibit A.
If you’re not familiar with the Fire! Orchestra recordings, get started now. 2013’s Exit and 2014’s Enter are birds-of-a-feather recordings, with the former being a live performance recording and the latter a studio session.
Enter was also this site’s 2014 Album of the Year.
By davesumner • Live Jazz • 0 • Tags: Andreas Werliin, Big Ears Festival, Fire!, Johan Berthling, Knoxville (TN), Live Jazz, Live Music, Mats Gustafsson, The Standard