Formed in London, England in 1999, the Fellowship for Integrated Rhythmic Expression is a collective of like-minded musical innovators. They originated from the band Timeline that was formed by alto saxophonist Barak Schmool (b. 7 February 1969, London, England) in 1995. Even collectives need prime movers and highly motivated individuals and in the case of F-IRE that role was filled by Schmool, who had studied in the USA with Steve Coleman of M-Base and was himself an educator at London’s City University and Royal Academy of Music. It is at CU that the musicians are able to gather in fully equipped rehearsal rooms, thus removing at a stroke several of the bugbears for musicians: rehearsal space, central location, permanent instrumental and audio set-ups. The musicians who formed Timeline were fellow students of African music and as members of the band they inventively mixed jazz improvisation with traditional African rhythms. In some instances, their musical connections included working together in other contexts; for instance, several of them were former members of Tomorrow’s Warriors.
From the outset, music and dance of many cultures were performed by F-IRE, something that broadened the collective’s base and its potential audience. A central characteristic of the collective has been its intention to give back to the community through performance, be it concert or carnival, and through education by way of schools and workshops. Timeline can be heard on the 2002 recording Know Hope. Among Timeline’s participants have been instrumentalists, singers, dancers, composers including the core personnel of Schmool, keyboard player Nick Ramm, guitarist David Okumu, bass player Tom Herbert and percussionists Leo Taylor and Ivan Ormond. Additional performers have included dance group Bullies Ballerinas, vocalists Bembe Segue and Eska Mtungwazi, and percussionist-singer Nana Tsiboe. Originally a small group, Timeline has also been extended to form F-IRE’s big band, Synergy. Another Timeline development is Méta Méta, a group drawing its repertoire from a fusion form of Cuban batá music.
Gradually, F-IRE extended to substantial numbers of individuals, some 60 in all. Among them have been trumpeter Tom Arthurs, bass player Larry Bartley, vocalist Julia Biel, guitarists Jonathan Bratoeff and Jonny Phillips, pianists Tom Cawley, Robert Mitchell and Justin Quinn, cellist Ben Davis, saxophonists Ingrid Laubrock, Finn Peters, Pete Wareham and Jason Yarde, tuba player Oren Marshall, percussionists Tom Skinner and Volker Sträter, and trumpeter Byron Wallen. Some of these individual artists have formed groups that remain within the collective, while others who have moved outside retain close practical and intellectual links. Among the many are Arthurs’ Centripede, Okumu’s Jade Fox and Thieves Without Loot, Mitchell’s Panacea, Laubrock’s quartet and quintet, Sebastian Rochford’s Polar Bear, Phillips’ Oriole, and Wareham’s Acoustic Ladyland. Additionally, there is Rhythms Of The City, a 20-piece street band that has appeared at festivals including that held in London’s Notting Hill district.
Although strongly influenced by Coleman’s M-Base, both musically and conceptually, F-IRE is very much the brainchild of its founding and continuing members. Additionally, through Schmool, F-IRE maintains links with like-minded collectives outside the UK and USA, including Aka Moon in Belgium and Hask in Paris, France. Many of the artists and bands within the F-IRE Collective have released albums under their own names. The compilation Fire: Works comprises tracks by groups led by musicians including Schmool, Mitchell, Arthurs, Laubrock, and Bratoeff.