We’ve gone on holiday by mistake!
Fire! are a Nordic psych-jazz power-trio, comprised of Mats Gustafsson (saxophones and Fender Rhodes), Johan Berthling (bass, electric guitar and Hammond organ), and Andreas Werliin (drums). Together, they weld free-jazz to post-rock with molten noise, soldering psychedelic flirtation to improvisational menace with freeform abandon.
Formed in 2009 in Stockholm, Fire! debuted on wax later that same year, with the five-track album, ‘You Liked Me Five Minutes Ago’ (Rune Grammofon). In 2010, Fire! collaborated with Jim O’Rourke, birthing ‘Fire! With Jim O’Rourke – Unreleased?’ (Rune Grammofon), twelve months later in 2011. 2012 saw further collaboration, this time with Australian multi-instrumentalist, Oren Ambarchi, resulting in the album ‘Fire! With Oren Ambarchi – In The Mouth – A Hand’ (Rune Grammofon). 2013 subsequently delivered ‘(Without Noticing)’ (Rune Grammofon), my current favourite Fire! LP, recorded and mixed at Summa, Stockholm, in the winter of 2012/2013, inspired by Bill Callahan‘s letters to Emma Bowlcut.
In 2013, Fire! were augmented by a further 28-mucicians from the Scandinavian jazz, improvisational, and avant-rock scenes, supplementing their core sound with vocals, trumpet, trombone, alto sax, tenor sax, bass sax, baritone sax clarinet, bass clarinet, guimbri, guitar, synthesizer, harmonium, piano, organ, keyboards, electronics, electric bass, acoustic bass, and drums . . . Fire! Orchestra was born. This expansion has so far born two long-players, ‘Exit!’ (Rune Grammofon, 2013) and ‘Enter!’ (Rune Grammofon, 2014), with a third, ‘Ritual’, due on Rune Grammofon on 29/04/16.
My own entry came recently, via Fire!’s 2016 album, ‘She Sleeps, She Sleeps’ (Rune Grammofon), a four-theme excursion on the flexibility of free-jazz parameters, re-imagined as drone-core. Their sparsest work to date, ‘She Sleeps, She Sleeps’ is an intoxicating abstraction, one that acts as the perfect introduction to this criminally underrated outfit.
Further digging around in the metaphorical crates led me in turn to The Thing, Gustafsson’s main squeeze, and another power-trio, this time with Ingebrigt Håker Flaten (bass) and Paal Nilssen-Love (drums). Blatantly, I jumped straight in, immediately tracking down The Thing’s most recent two-disc set, ‘Shake’ (The Thing Records/TROST). Recorded in June 2015 by Jørgen Træen at Duper studios in Bergen, Norway, and mixed by Gustafsson’s Fire! compadres, Johan Berthling and Andreas Werlin, ‘Shake’ is The Thing’s most expansive and varied album to date: a veritable smorgasbord of experimental jazz toppings.
Further immersion in all things free-jazz finds me washed up on the northern shores of Swedish label, Omlott, home of Neutral, Anna Högberg Attack, Peeter Uuskyla, Konstrukt, Spjärnsvallet, Peter Brötzmann (he of ‘Machine Gun’ infamy) and Dog Life. My research into their roster is still in it’s infancy, admittedly, but I have already fallen for Anna Högberg Attack, whose s/t debut album is described by Mats Gustafsson thus:
“Attacking the now. The instant. The music. Attacking your image of what. Is. Music. Attacking the past. The history. What is now. Attack is all. Don’t hold back. Ever. Curiousness and initiative is all. And attack. The attack mode. 6-Swedes attacking it all, with a front of 3-sax players, not holding back. Attacking the mystery of it all. 6-defined personalities and creative voices with feet and minds in jazz, improvised music and related experimental matters. Togetherness. A real unit of creativity. Of poetic beauty. Anna Högberg as a modern free jazz standard bearer keeping it all together – her rich alto sax leading the ensemble into layers of high octane outbursts and sensational melodic variations. Her tone being able to cut landscapes open, to melt your brain as we know it. Check the two tenor sax axes out! Elin Forkelid Larsson and Malin Wättring knows how to attack matters – how to structure solos and ensemble work with intense warmth and melodic beauty. Seldom have I heard such warm and rich sounding tenors in Scandinavia. The time is here. The attack attack! Drummer Anna Lund punctuating the flow… attacking it all. Laying fundaments of possibilities for the others. The attack attack! Pianist Lisa Ullén adding her thorny, but detailed phrases to the picture. The picture of the attack attack.
And last but not least. The attack attack of deep sounding bass maestro Elsa Bergman. With an unusaul imagination of how to position her own language and bass lines into a collective
of attacking free jazz. Freeing the jazz. Attacking the jazz. The attack attack!”
Elsewhere, I’ve been banging away at Kamasi Washington‘s suitably titled ‘The Epic’ (Brainfeeder), the three-hour, triple-vinyl colossus I’ve been dipping in and out of ever since it dropped, back in May of 2015. Washington’s involvement with superstar MC Kendrick Lamar‘s ‘To Pimp a Butterfly’ unsurprisingly intensified the shower of ‘End-Of Year’ plaudits that rained down on ‘The Epic’ come close of play 2015, and it’s taken me the best part of 9-months to fully digest the depth and breadth of this monster of post-modern big band jazz. Encapsulating elements of the Coltranes (John and Alice), Miles Davis, and Pharaoh Sanders, ‘The Epic’ embraces choral embellishment, sweet soul music and R&B suss, at roughly the point in time where jazz first fucked funk, as it touches every base on the way to classicism.
Finally, I’m being released into the community again soon to witness Fire! live at Cafe Oto on 26/03/16. Maybe I’ll see you there. Maybe I won’t.