Saturday, July 20, 2019

Fire! Orchestra - Arrival (Rune Grammofon, 2019)

Fire! began as a trio with Mats Gustafsson on saxophones, Johan Berthling on bass and Andreas Werlin on drums, and this core group has released some excellent records, also with invited guests like Jim O'Rourke and Oren Ambarchi. Expanding to the large ensemble Fire! Orchestra allowed the group to broaden the texture of the music even further, leaving the constraints of jazz or free improvisation behind to develop their own unique music that drew from a wide range of sounds like progressive rock, contemporary classical, film scores and more and the wide scope of the band's remit allowed for plenty of experimentation. This album has a newly transformed collection of musicians, fifteen strong, turning their focus to an acoustic centered sound that features a strong attention on vocals, strings and clarinets.  The voices of Mariam Wallentin and Sofia Jernberg are at the front of the band and the weave in and out creating beautiful sounds as the instruments create layers and textures of sound that surround and frame the vocals, and then achieve liftoff for powerfully arranged segments of their own. The album is opened by the track “(I am a) Horizon" where dark strings and horns set the mood, leading to keyboards and vocals setting a mellower yet haunted vibe. The two vocalists work well together achieving an aching, yearning feeling aided by spare horns and electric piano. Strings swoop in to give the music a wider almost cinematic scope, as the singers step aside allowing for some abstractions from the reed players taking the piece to a eerie and unresolved conclusion. “Silver Trees” also see the horns creating an open space for interpretation with bass clarinet, baritone saxophone and upright bass creating an evocative soundscape. The vocalists enter gracefully with sparse instrumental accompaniment, their voices filling the available space along with organ and graceful brass. Strings arc across the ceiling of the performance, and the blending of the vocal and instrumental voicing is patient and thoughtful, as the piece develops at its own pace in an organic fashion. Low toned reeds and punchy brass with tight bass and drums up the tempo and the vocalists trade phrases quickly, and the stings sting dramatically, allowing the band to build to an epic collective improvisation. The closing track, the Chic song “At Last I Am Free” has voice and keyboards in an emotional beginning, filled with yearning and loss, further instruments gathering and both singers using wordless vocals to invoke a sense of freedom over a drumbeat and keyboard, leading to a mysterious and nebulous ending. This was a very well done album, the arrangements and performances on the album are first rate and the musicians make up some of the finest of the contemporary scene in Europe. Using vocals and lyrics to center the music also gives the instrumentalists freedom to experiment, and they embrace the new dynamic to create a cohesive overall work. Arrival - amazon.com

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