Fire! Orchestra

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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. For every squawk and wail, there is a cohesive rhythm and melody line. Drums, bass, and Fender Rhodes form the backbone, as members almost wait in line to have their moment. The complex arrangements mean the basis of the tracks change, and some instruments take the lead while others drop to the main riff, like in part three where the baritone sax takes over for the main bass hook. Although a studio recording, the tracks here are live-sounding, with high energy and feel more structured than those on Exit! The vocals on the album are haunting, soulful, and magnificently performed and usually consist of short motifs within very short sentence structures. A perfect example is the harmonious beginning of part one and the competitive vocals from Wildbirds & Peacedrums member Mariam Wallentin and Sofia Jernberg as they cry "Let us all go, let them all go, let it all go, feel it all go." Overall, the album is a thrilling listen, and is a lot to digest in just one sitting. There are times when tracks drag slightly, but it's safe to make an assumption that soon there will be a change in style, rhythm, BPM, or dimension, resulting in a complex and magical record with many twists and turns.

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