Fire Orchestra! - Arrival

Label: Rune Grammofon, 2019

Personnel - Mariam Wallentin: voice; Sofia Jernberg: voice; Anna Lindal: violin; Josefin Runsteen: violin; Katt Hernandez: violin; Leo Svensson: cello; Susana Santos Silva: trumpet; Per Texas Johansson: oboe, bass clarinet, contrabass clarinet; Christer Bothén: bass clarinet, contrabass clarinet; Isak Hedtjärn: bb clarinet, alto saxophone; Mats Gustafsson: baritone sax; Tomas Hallonsten: keyboards; Johan Berthling: bass, electric bass; Andreas Werliin: drums.

Fire! Orchestra is currently a 14-piece collective led by the same three Swedish musicians that co-founded it in 2009: saxophonist Mats Gustafsson, bassist Johan Berthling, and drummer/producer Andreas Werliin. As usual, we find them searching for different approaches and redefining possibilities for their bold orchestral aesthetic.

Collaboratively, these helmers penned four of the seven tracks on Arrival, a new body of work that also includes two interesting covers of non-jazz songs and a piece by vocalist/lyricist Mariam Wallentin. The latter’s tune is called “Weekends (The Soil is Calling)” and blends the psychedelic dance-rock of The Stone Roses and the alternative percussive force of Bjork through an adroit association of dubby bass lines, hypnotic drumming, and euphoric synth cuts. With Wallentin sharing vocal duties with Sofia Jernberg, another force to be reckoned with, the tune reflects a radical change of mood at some point, when the charged mallet drumming tempts the horn section to contribute low-pitched ostinatos and then coiled, fierce baritone cries uttered with raw instinct. In conclusion, everything settles into a lull with Tomas Hallonsten’s sustained synth chords and Per Texas Johansson’s chromatic-inflected oboe chants.

(I Am a) Horizon” is the gripping opener, early implemented with violin laments, moody pointillism, and the deep sighs of contrabass clarinet. There’s a rich resonance overall, but nothing compared as when wistful keyboard riffs assume the central spot with concordant bass lines and dual vocalization as accomplices. Portuguese trumpeter Susana Santos Silva emerges from the background with expressive licks and sudden attacks, and afterward is the quartet of strings that appears melodiously alluring. During the last minute, contrabass clarinets shove us against terra firma.

Strategically layered, “Silver Trees” kicks off with bass clarinet prayers smeared with multiphonics. Berthling cooks up a staunch vamp that supports the chanteuses’ lyricism. He is matched by the saxophone at a later phase. Pursuing a metamorphosis, the band embraces funk and hip-hop, re-energizing the new ambiance with a fresh and groovy ostinato, trumpet power, authoritative rap, and off-kilter string orchestrations. In a complete opposition to this mood, “Dressed in Smoke, Blown Away” offers jazz psychedelia served with a sluggish beat at the core. Gustafsson’s irascible vociferations are delivered with a meaty tone, being replaced by the haunting, sometimes delirious vocals. Rash horn fills and scratchy string explorations with a penchant for atonality also contribute to this trance-like oddity.

Blue Crystal Fire” by experimental folk guitarist Robbie Basho and “At Last I Am Free” by the disco band Chic were the selected covers for this album. The former piece has an ominous cinematic start, after which it slips into an ethereal art rock melancholy reminiscent of Kate Bush, while the latter is a slow R&B hit transformed into a gloomy song as it evokes a range of feelings with inclination to weariness and sadness. Gradually, it expands into brightness, though.

More restrained than any previous work from the Orchestra, Arrival is never formulaic in its presentation. And the fire… still burns.

Grade  A-

Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
01 - (I Am a) Horizon ► 02 - Weekends ► 05 - Dressed in Smoke, Blown Away