Mats Gustafsson's Fire! trio specialise in a slow-burning heaviness that dissolves the boundaries between psych rock and free jazz. In their Orchestra incarnation, they are a far proggier proposition, with Johan Berthling's lumbering bass riffs and Andreas Werliin's deceptively minimalist drums undergirding numerous vocalists, horn players and noisemakers. As such, they can suffer from 1970s-style gigantism. Arrival goes some way to addressing these issues by reducing the line-up from 21 plus musicians to 14. Fire! pay careful attention to the instrumental colours and textures, with Susana Santos Silva's silvery trumpet streaking across granitic low horns — baritone sax, bass and contrabass clarinets — and strings. Spare electric piano and organ complement the rhythm section, while vocalists Mariam Wallentin and Sofia Jernberg play a more prominent role than ever. "(I Am A) Horizon" wrongfoots the listener with wisps of violin and a gaggle of pizzicato strings and bass clarinet, before Berthling and keyboardist Tomas Hallonsten introduce a hypnotic blues prowl that's somewhere between Miles Davis circa In A Silent Way, Black Sabbath and PJ Harvey. Singing an octave apart, Wallentin and Jernberg embody a metaphorical landscape, with strings, bass clarinet and trumpet tracing the change of seasons. In sharp contrast, "Weekends (The Soil Is Calling)" is almost jaunty, with dubwise trumpet and psychedelic splashes of organ setting up a jazzy vocal melody in the key of Karin Krog, before drifting in and out of darker, more abstract passages. "Silver Trees" is almost funky, with Wallentin and Jernberg trading rapped phrases over Werliin's locomotive groove. The vocalists are given free rein to improvise, embarking on glass-shattering soprano trills and Yoko Ono jabber over a gathering orchestral storm. One of the most intriguing new developments arrives in the form of cover versions. Their take on Robbie Basho's psych folk gem "Blue Crystal Fire" is suitably luminous, with Jernberg's voice gliding high above lowing horns, electric piano and double bass. Wallentin brings a bluesy ache to "At Last I Am Free", where the orchestra add Portishead-like strings to a keyboard template derived from Robert Wyatt's cover of Chic's 1978 disco lament. While they're both striking interpretations, some of the originals' tenderness is lost to dramatic earnestness.
The Wire (UK)