Fire! Orchestra are based around three improvising musicians, saxophonist Mats Gustafsson, bassist Johan Berthling, and drummer Andreas Werliin. Originally working under the title Fire!, the trio recorded with artists Jim O'Rourke and Oren Ambarchi but -- like on 2013's live album Exit! -- this release sees them perform as the Fire! Orchestra, a 28-piece Nordic jazz ensemble that includes members from groups as varied as Wildbirds & Peacedrums, Dungen, and the Thing. It's a sonic adventure -- with parts one to three averaging 15 minutes each and part four clocking in at a more modest nine minutes -- and a kaleidoscopic journey into prog rock, jazz, and heavy blues riffs, reminiscent of the late-'60s big jazz bands fronted by Sun Ra and Charlie Haden, although in a modernized format.
Review Summary: Rekindling the fire.Fire! Orchestra are all about contradictions, contrasting madness with tunefulness and the monumental scope with the moments of minimalistic improvisation. This big band comprised of 28 Swedish musicians made a name for themselves last year with Exit!, the debut that stretched out the boundaries of free jazz, taking inspiration from a wide variety of music styles. The effect was a discordant blast of an album that defied expectations with its potent mash-up of noise and cacophony set against a distinctly melodious backdrop.
Sweden's 28-piece Fire! Orchestra comprise jazz, improv and avant-rock players. They often sound like an exciting throwback to two cult manifestations of this kind of giant crossover lineup from earlier times: UK pianist Keith Tippett's 1970s 50-piece Centipede, and Carla Bley's star-packed Escalator Over the Hill band. The seed was free-saxist Mats Gustafsson's multi-stylistic Fire! trio, but the orchestra's drummer, Andreas Werliin, also played in award-winning Swedish experimental-pop group Wildbirds & Peacedrums with his vocalist wife, Mariam Wallentin.
The big band has been part of jazz since the 1920s, but in the late 1960s a new kind of large ensemble began to emerge as part of the directions then taking hold in the music. These groups took a stand alongside other free and avant-garde jazz innovators of the time, their positions energised by the febrile socio-political atmosphere that gripped much of the USA and Europe. They outgrew traditional trio and quartet forms, in tacit acknowledgement that the most appropriate response to racism, oppression and the military-industrial complex was to organise along collective lines.