Live at Glenn Miller Café

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Jazz and rock have an uneasy relationship, and while there have been numerous instances of cross-fertilization, there have been few successful examples of the two blending in what has come to be known as fusion. Rarely have efforts to merge these seemingly disparate styles proved worthy artistically, even if there have been cases of commercial success. The efforts of Miles Davis come to mind as among the most musically substantive, but even supporters admit to mixed results, although some of his trailblazing recordings, such as A Tribute to Jack Johnson, can be stunning. Sometimes the lack of quality of many efforts to fuse the genres is due to less than stellar musicianship, but often it is due to the limited repertoire, coupled with little interest in fusion by most serious jazz artists, and sometimes the lack of expertise in multiple genres by performers. In its debut recording, the Swedish group Firehouse avoids the common pitfalls of fusion by layering strong jazz improvisations on compelling and varied compositions by John Lindblom. What is noticeable from the outset is the finely layered compositions and the generally stimulating improvisations. Lindblom avoids the common pitfalls of cliché by experimenting with textures, changing tempos, and altering volumes. "Slow Glow," a lovely, contemplative muse, is sandwiched between energy-driven tomes, while the intricate rhythms throughout twist the melodies into colorful, contorted prisms. Even "Bright Lights, Clean Fights," which drags a little, maintains its integrity and level of detail. Two standout musicians are Lindblom, whose guitar can knock out charged electricity without forgoing nuance, and Magnus Broo, with a primitive-sounding trumpet that exalts in its rawness. The arrangements blend elements of free jazz and hard bop with hardcore rock to create a highly listenable, sophisticated product that does not surrender to commercial considerations. Groups such as the Flying Luttenbachers come to mind, and the influence of Ornette Coleman is obvious, but the compositions here are original and compelling, enough so that the results do not sound derivative.