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Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Fire! Orchestra – Ritual (Rune Grammofon, 2016) *****

Days of Fire (2)

By Martin Schray

I have often asked myself why I love Mats Gustafsson’s projects The Thing, Fire! and Fire! Orchestra so much. But actually, the answer is relatively simple: It’s these riffs and catchy grooves that kill me - and with Ritual Fire! Orchestra excel themselves. Here they combine the soulfulness of their debut album Exit with free jazz excursions and the prog rock elements of the follower Enter to a beast of ultimate power and beauty. For the first time they have found the perfect balance between elaborate arrangements and free improvisation.

If you compare the music on Ritual to “Enter Part Two“, the central track on Enter, for example, you can see that it already had one of these gripping riffs but then Mats Gustafsson didn’t seem to trust his vision so that he added a pure noise segment so that the piece fell apart.

On Ritual everything is much more organic. The album is conceived like a suite with five cohesive tracks. The lyrics are from Erik Lundgren’s “Mannen utan väg“ (“man without a way“) from 1942, as well as some original texts from Mats Gustafsson, all sung by Mariam Wallentin and Sofia Jernberg (Simon Ohlsson, who added male vocals on Enter, is not part of the project anymore). Three songs are uptempo soul rockers (“Ritual 1“, “Ritual 2“ and “Ritual 4“), two are slow, groovy shuffles (“Ritual 3“ and “Ritual 5“). The first four tracks are loosely connected by solo and duo parts (saxophone, electronics/guitars, drums), only the last track is separated. In these connections the musicians can live out their lust to freely improvise before the solos  are absorbed in the notated parts of the compositions.

The three rockers are the highlights of the album, the band is very disciplined and plays them very tightly. This might have to do with the fact that the Fire! Orchestra has downsized. On their previous albums there were up to 29 musicians, now they are just 21 members. This means that  they still have the impact of a full orchestra however, the compositions have got rid of unnecessary bombast. A good example of this is “Ritual 2“, an impatient, bumpy funk piece, which consists of three connected layers: the main theme played by the guitars, bass, drums and parts of the reeds, the interspersions by the brass section and the solos that soar above them - the voices (especially Jernberg’s helium voice hits the roof), a nervous trombone and a frantic soprano saxophone. In general, all the tracks have a very dramatic structure, they amount to a climax and then they calm down again (most notably in “Ritual 4“). “Ritual 5“ is the grande finale. Based on a slow Fender Rhodes riff, the brass section throws in excessive chords and the singers move mysteriously between heaven and hell. There is a certain smoothness in this track, if there weren’t disturbing electronic and guitar sounds that save the song from being too accessible.

This music keeps circling like the wind in the aftermath of a storm scattering ashes and debris, the underlying tension is one of the great qualities of the album in general. Finally, there is the sound, which is full and clear. The music is superbly recorded capturing every detail beautifully. All in all, Ritual is one of the best albums this year.

Ritual is available as a double LP on white vinyl (in a limited edition), black vinyl and on CD.

Fire! Orchestra is:

Mats Gustafsson / baritone and slide sax, conduction
Johan Berthling / bass
Andreas Werliin / drums
Mariam Wallentin / vocals
Sofia Jernberg / vocals
Susana Santos Silva / trumpet
Niklas Barnö / trumpet
Mats Äleklint / trombone
Hild Sofie Tafjord / French horn
Per Åke Holmlander / tuba
Anna Högberg / alto and baritone sax
Mette Rasmussen / alto sax
Lotte Anker / tenor and soprano sax
Jonas Kullhammar / braithophone, bass and slide sax
Per “Texas“ Johansson / clarinets and baritone sax
Julien Desprez / guitar
Finn Loxbo / guitar
Martin Hederos / keyboards and violin
Edvin Nahlin / keyboards
Andreas Berthling / electronics
Mads Forsby / drums

Listen to “Ritual Part 1“ here:

Available at Downtown Music Gallery and Instant Jazz.


Lee said...

Nice review, Martin. I think this is my favorite Fire! Orchestra album so far, and your point about the smaller band may be part of the reason.

There are also a couple of decent videos of "Ritual" from last year's Saalfelden and Ljubljana

Martin Schray said...

Thanks, Lee. It's my favorite Fire! Orchestra so far as well, although I also like Exit a lot, too.
Thanks for the links as well. I know the Saalfelden gig, which is very nice.
I was able to see them in Zurich two weeks ago, there will be a review of the concert tomorrow.

Lee said...

Awesome! Looking forward to the review.

Fergus Freeman said...

I listened to this once through and found it lacked invention and, yes, fire. Too much like Godspeed and other indie rock, where the emphasis is founding a collective harmonic drone. I miss Exit (or better yet, Second Exit), which has an amorphous and uncontrolled quality in spite of the group size and syrupy riffs. Fire! is a different story, as you say Martin, but their flexibility better fits with the heaviness of The Riff I think.