It can’t be easy gathering 28 of Northern Europe’s finest jazz and improvising musicians in one place at the same time, which is why Sweden’s Fire! Orchestra has been one of the continent’s best kept secrets so far. After playing rare shows a handful of times a year, this incredible mass ensemble is getting ready to unleash its full power with Enter, its first studio recording. This isn’t jazz: this is Nordic dynamite. Fire! originated as the trio of Swedish improv masters Mats Gusfasson (sax), Johan Berthling (bass) and Andreas Werliin (drums). None of them are what you could call jazz purists; they all play in many different groups and contexts, including The Thing (Gustafsson), experimental folk-electronica outfit Tape (Berthling), and skewed pop unit Wildbirds And Peacedrums (Werliin).
Around 2011 the idea sprang up to expand a massive orchestra around the core trio, featuring the cream of Scandinavian jazz, improvisation and avant rock players and vocalists.
Key contributions come from keyboardists Sten Sandell, trumpeter Goran Kajfes (Oddjob, Subtropic Arkestra, Nordic Music Prize winner 2012), drummers Raymond Strid (GUSH, Barry Guy, Martin Küchen Ensemble) and Johan Holmegard (Dungen, The Amazing), guitarist David Stackenäs, electronicist Joachim Nordwall (Skull Defekts, iDEAL Records) and Fender Rhodes player Martin Hederos (Soundtrack Of Our Lives), to name just a few. Adding a crucial, soulful presence are the three vocalists Mariam Wallentin (Wildbirds And Peacedrums), Ethiopian born singer Sofie Jernberg and Simon Ohlsson (Silverbullit). But Fire! Orchestra is a collective effort, with Gustafsson directing a tight, disciplined ensemble that enjoys its moments let off the leash.
Following last year’s live debut Exit (Rune Grammofon), Enter is Fire! Orchestra’s first time in the studio, and might surprise you with its slow, treacly funk dynamics, running through a kaleidoscope of moods, rhythms, textures and dynamics. Muscular rock rhythms flesh out texts written by singer Mariam Wallentin, inspired by the legendary free jazz saxophonist Joe McPhee, and sung in soured blues moans by the Orchestra’s three-headed vocal team. Recalling the righteous big band jazz of the late 60s by figures such as Charlie Haden, Sun Ra, Mike Westbrook and Chris McGregor, there are also echoes of Matana Roberts’s recent jazz tapestries and the steamy psych-funk of Brightblack Morning Light. Part Two opens on a groove ripped from The Beatles’ psychedelic classic ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’. Using collective riffing at its finest, this is an epic suite that undergoes constant scene-shifts between relentlessly building rhythms, rising in emotional intensity as the furnace is stoked.
Enter is about following your instincts, having the courage to step forwards into the unknown when the door is open. Death might be an exit, but it’s also an entrance – to a new, unimaginable state of being. The music acts out this cyclical pattern of living and dying, entering and exiting, and the finale winds down to the same reflective, introspective keyboard motif as it started with. You’ve got to enter to exit. Keep looking straight into the light.