Fire! Orchestra

August 29, 2023

Rune Grammofon RCD 2232

Anyone wondering what would happen if the uptown soul-funk bass and string arrangements of the early 1970s were added to Jazz choral work of the 1960s and topped off with Free Jazz soloists should have the answer in Echoes. Imagine Norman Whitfield’s psychedelic soul backing Archie Shepp playing with his early fierceness and the result is the music on this two-CD set by the more than 30 almost exclusively Scandinavian musicians in this edition of the Fire! Orchestra headed by baritone saxophonist Mats Gustafsson.

Beginning with Johan Berthling’s variant of the bass line that powered tunes like “Papa was a Rolling Stone”, drum shuffles, conga pops and piano comping cement the evolving motif which is sweetened by a harmonized violins and cellos as Gustafsson ejaculates reed growls and screaming flattement. Each time vocalized stutters and split tones are heard from him or one of the band’s 11 other saxophonists, during the discs 14 tracks, the string section’s output remains as tonal as the reeds’ vocalized stutters and split tones are atonal.

Variants of this formula are played out until the final track which completes a variation of the introduction with an emphasized double bass pulse, inflating reed multiphonics and a sardonic fable-like recitation by Joe McPhee. However contrapuntal asides far removed from the main theme are also projected with skill and cunning throughout. Three singers verbalize or murmur at various junctures, with tunes often dissected by brief interpolations from Kjell Nordeson’s vibes, Reine Fiske’s guitar, Niklas Fite’s banjo, and percussion emphasis from Juan Romero. As the sections evolve from avant to andante to Arcadian and back, these interposed elements prevent settling on a continuous rhythmic sameness. Also standing out – and outstanding – are bugling trumpet triplets and alto saxophone squeals. But considering four trumpeters and five alto saxophonists are part of the line-up, it’s impossible to ascribe individual praise.

Suggestions of film music, attempts at a threnody, and idiophone drones that can reference outer space-like sonic miasma as much as earth-bound rhythms coupled with distant bell-pealing move in-and-out of focus during the first disc. So does sweetened romantic motifs from flute and strings. However the first climax arrives on “Echoes: Lost Eyes In Dying Hand”. Balancing David Sandstrom’s lyrically macabre vocals, McPhee’s tenor saxophone smears plus harmonized brass and vibe plinks reach a polyphonic crescendo as the linear and reverberating groove remains. Continuing on the following “Welcoming You. Drinking Your Dream” menacing and metallic percussion and pizzicato string phrasing slides down to meet conclusive braying brass triplets and an elephantine tuba ostinato from either Per Ake Holmlander or Heida Mobec.

Upsurging wails from the entire group playing at once caps off the narrative which takes up CD2. Before this happens and the theme slows from allegro to adagio, orchestral vamps open up for an electric bass and tuba admixture, altissimo reed yelps and brass shakes, string rubs, tailgate blast from Mats Äleklint’s trombone ands sitar-like clangs from the banjo. On the subsequent “Nothing Astray All Falling”. Mats Lindstrom’s wispy electronic coloration is prominently added to the mix in a contrapuntal interludes moving among voltage oscillations, idiophone emphasis and ascending string motifs until a horn fanfare is attained with “Echoes: Cala Boca Menino”. As the ensemble chants “down, down”, shrill tremolo wave forms, percussion raps, half-valve brass screams and elevated reed split tones attempt to dislocate the ongoing narrative as it descends, but inner string plucks and keyboard pressure from pianist Sten Sandell maintains linear harmonies, strengthened by an elongated group microtonal chord from high to low pitches on the brief following track.

This meld of horizontal evolution and solo division as a Blues guitar-like picking also cuts through the blended strings-and-horns riffs on the penultimate “Not Yet Born. The Blind Courage Of Life”. It’s followed by a replication of thumping bass groove and drum backbeat of the introductory track, with equivalent smears and honks from Gustafsson and tenor saxophonist Fredrik Ljungkvist and McPhee’s concluding vocal rap.

Eclectic in the best way Echoes confirms Gustafsson’s increased sophistication as a conceptualizer, composer and arranger for a large ensemble, with impressive, if sometime unidentified soloing as an added bonus.

–Ken Waxman

Track Listing: CD1: 1. Echoes: I See Your Eye Part 1 2. Echoes: Forest Without Shadows 3. Echoes: To Gather It All. Once% 4. Sliding Whisper Of Pain 5. Echoes: Lost Eyes In Dying Hand*@ 6. Welcoming You. Drinking Your Dream CD2: 7. Echoes: A Lost Farewell 8. Nothing Astray All Falling 9. In Those Veins. A Silvernet 10. Echoes: Cala Boca Menino+ 11. Double Loneliness 12. Respirations 13. Not Yet Born. The Blind Courage Of Life 14. Echoes: I See Your Eye Part 2^

Personnel: Niklas Barno, Susana Santos Silva, Tobias Wiklund (trumpet); Goran Kajfes (trumpet, slide trumpet); Mats Äleklint, Maria Bertel (trombone; Per Ake Holmlander, Heida Mobec (tuba); Dror Feiler (alto saxophone, soprillo saxophone, slide saxophone, flute, bells); Per Johansson (sopranino saxophone, oboe, bassoon, bass clarinet, contrabass clarinet, flute bass flute); Julia Strzalek (alto saxophone); Anna Hogberg, Signe Emmeluth, Lars Ulander, Mette Rasmussen (alto saxophone, flute); Fredrik Ljungkvist (tenor saxophone); Joe McPhee (tenor saxophone*: vocal^); Mats Gustafsson (baritone saxophone); Alberto Pinton (baritone saxophone, clarinet, bass flute; Daniel Gahrton (baritone saxophone; flute); ; Isak Hedtjam (clarinet) Christer Bothen (bass clarinet, guembri, donso n goni); Andreas Roysum (bass clarinet, clarinet, flute); Sten Sandell (piano); Martin Hederos (Fender Rhodes, organ); Alex Zethson (piano, synthesizer); Reine Fiske (guitar); Niklas Fite (banjo); Johan Berthling, Elsa Bergman (bass); Kjell Nordeson (vibraphone, glockenspiel); Andreas Werlin (drums); Juan Romero (percussion, berimbau); Joselin Runsteed, Anna Lindal (violin); My Hellgren, Amalie Stathem (cello); Mats Lindstrom (electronics); Mariam Wallentin%, David Sandstrom@, Tomas Oberg+(vocals)