Reviews RCD2234

For their eighth album, European free jazz trio Fire! decamped to Steve Albini's Electrical Audio studio in Chicago. Recorded and mixed over three days, Testament is a no-frills, back to basics celebration of the group's bonded collective power that, tended by Albini, is nurtured from the group's seed of an idea into a prize specimen. The opening "Work Song For A Scattered Past" is ushered in byJohan Berthling's surefooted bassline, a veritable walk to the scaffold closely followed by Andreas Werliin's padding drums and Mats Gustafsson's looming baritone sax. As the pace gathers to a near sprint the players begin to open up, ending with a furious finale that gradually reverts back to the track's loping intro. A similar mood persists through "The Dark Inside Of Cabbage" with Gustafsson unleashing an occasional fiery breath before lapsing back to accompany his fellow musicians' steady tread. At times this feels like stoner jazz, as though the trio have tired of listening to their free music peers, looking instead to early Black Sabbath or Sleep for inspiration. It is on the end two pieces, "Running Bison. Breathing Entity. Sleeping Reality." and "One Testament. One Aim. One More To Go. Again.", where the trio partly break out of their trance state, with the former making an initial gallop into freer pastures, while the latter erupts with an opening salvo of growls, grunts and elephantine trumpeting from Gustafsson - finally launching into an old school loft improvisation which is fanned into an inferno before being tenderly damped down and left to smoulder. 
The Wire (UK)

With previous releases augmented by numerous guests and occasionally enlarged to orchestral proportions, the eighth album by Fire!, Testament (Rune Grammofon), finds the band reduced to the core trio of Mats Gustafsson on baritone sax, drummer Andreas Werliin, (imagine John Bonham transplanted to a free jazz session) and bassist Johan Berthling, whose simple motifs and pulses thread everything together. Whether delving into sonorous depths or incendiary heights, where his anguished wail of harmonic overtones haunts these tunes like a reproachful ghost, Gustafsson's bold musicality is as intense as it is expressive. Beautifully recorded by Steve Albini in a no-frills, no-overdub setting, this is as raw and as direct as it gets.

This Swedish trio follow free jazz's concept of sometimes feral discord designed to touch jazz's raw roots, sometimes reaching right back to New Orleans. Firel Orchestra albums can meanwhile use upwards of two-dozen musicians, scaling complex heights. This eighth trio album is conversely the first stripped to just baritone sax. bass and drums, sans additional instruments, electronics or guests, played live to analogue tape in the spartan Chicago crucible of Steve Albints Electrical Audio studio, where the producer transparently documents musicians. 'Four Ways of Dealing with One Way' demonstrates Fire!'s frequent roles, drummer Andreas Werliin pawing with tense, banked power, bassist Johan Berthling providing subliminal stability and tonal colour, while saxophonist Mats Gustafsson goes his own melancholy way, brooding down vacant back-streets but getting nowhere. He ends stalking through a Werliin storm that doesn't break In Fire! terms, this is a ballad. Work Song for a Scattered Past' starts with an unwavering bass phrase, Albini catching the strings' sound, before Werliin's pummelling, martial clamour meets Gustafssoris indignant, wounded cries. The Dark Inside of Cabbage maintains a heartbeat groove beneath the sax's harrying forays. 'Running Bison. Breathing Entity. Sleeping Reality' a more meditative mood. The closing 'One Testament. One Aim. One More to Go. Again starts with GustafssonS huffed breaths and rude rasps, slipping into soothing, reflectively long melodic lines, as if emotionally evolving in real time. A violent Werliin clamour subsides, then the saxophonist enters a hushed nirvana near-gospel in its sated acceptance, sounding both exhausted and spiritually elevated. Firers emotional interplay survives Testament's unadorned landscape, maintaining much of their usual variety. As usual with Albini, this is what happened - less than often before, but showing the band's philosophy of groove-rooted experiment can be self-sustaining. 
Jazzwise (UK)

Testament is the latest in a series of Fire! albums that first kindled this trio’s output 15 years ago with You Liked Me Five Minutes Ago (Rune Grammofon, 2009). Nine releases on, including albums such as Unreleased?(Rune Grammofon, 2011) with avant guitarist Jim O’Rourke sharing the billing, the flame is still burning. This electrifying trio is the nucleus of the big band offshoot Fire! Orchestra, which has released six captivating albums, the debut being the ironically titled Exit (Rune Grammofon, 2013). This scaled-down minimalist line-up couldn’t be in greater contrast to the music created on their previous recording with the Fire! Orchestra, Echoes (2023, Rune Grammofon), which included a staggering 43 musicians in the big band and which additionally involved strings and voices. The opener, a chant-like Work Song For A Scattered Past, is underpinned by electric bassist Johan Berthling’s strident ostinato bass line and Andreas Werliin’s steadfast drumbeat whilst baritonist Mats Gustafsson periodically emits a furious Peter Brötzmann-like squall of sound from his baritone saxophone. On the brooding Four Ways Of Dealing With One Way the drone-like quality of Berthling’s rumbling bass vies with Gustafsson’s gentler Ayler-esque baritone, his elongated notes sounding at times more like arco double bass than a saxophone. Gustafsson evinces plaintive, wailing baritone on One Testament. One Aim. One More To Go. Again, which is likewise played over thunderous drums and a repeated, hypnotic bass line.Throughout the album, there’s an almost menacing sense of foreboding, generated by the stolid fusion of the bass guitar and drums, frequently pounding out a rhythm at a disconcertingly funereal pace. Perhaps, decades ago, Mike Osborne’s trio came close to summoning-up the pent-up tension and subsequent release of blistering energy levels that Gustafsson, Berthling and Werliin evince, but this free jazz trio is positively searing.
Jazz Journal (UK)

Saxophonist Mats Gustafsson’s trio Fire!, with bassist Johan Berthling and drummer Andreas Werliin, have always been relatively minimalist in their concept, but rarely so much as they are here. Their new album, Testament, was recorded at Chicago’s Electrical Audio studio, with Steve Albini behind the board, and the group let go of many of their sonic extras: Gustafsson plays neither flute nor homemade electronics, both featured on previous Fire! releases, and there are no special guests, either. This is the sound of three men in a room cranking out minimal grooves that owe as much to dub and postpunk as to jazz. In some ways it’s very comparable to the Ill Considered album above. “Work Song For A Scattered Past” kicks the record off, and it’s a beautiful display of the band’s telepathic interaction and Albini’s engineering skills: Werliin’s drums sound huge, and Gustafsson’s sax rises to an unhinged roar.
Stereogum (US)

One of Shindies favourite jazz albums of last year was Fire! Orchestra's Echoes, and the Swedish group is back in its stripped back trio formation of FIRE! and latest LP Testament. Recorded with Steve Albini in Chicago, this is where jazz and clattering post-rock meet on the apocalyptic edge. Marvellous. 4/5.
Shindig! (UK)

Fire! are one of those jazz fusion type bands that I often have a problem with, largely due to the wild blowing of the saxophone player. As such, in that way they remind me a little of Led Bib, although Fire! have an advantage, in that with just one winds player, the other two musicians get more space and attention, which means more complex touches to the rhythms and the bass work. Actually, with TESTAMENT the band have become a lot more intricately composed than in the past, dropping a lot of their free wildness in favour of a music with more tunes, more melancholy and more pizzazz, which lends a hint of Soft Machine and Get The Blessing, especially when get into the grooves. In all, I'd say it's the best I've heard from them yet.
Audion (UK)

Det är så vackert, Mats Gustafsson skämmer bort oss med mörka melodier. Här är det som om han skapat en koncentrerad samling poem för att undersöka en känsla. Trion öppnar trotsigt; det sjunger om ljudklustren. Men aldrig i gäll extas. Det är som om de var inne i en tröstevisa som varieras nummer efter nummer. Det blir effektivt genom repetitioner, slingorna och klangerna sätter sig i öronen och ekar långt efteråt. Lite känns det som att han likt gamla folkmusiker vill övertyga genom att ta om och om.(Ja det är kanske modern folkmusik detta?!) Lyssna! Lyssna igen! Eller som Art Blakey kunde säga efter ett nummer: Did you get the message? Det blir lite förvirrande och det ska det vara. Och jag tänker att så här kan riktigt bra surrealism låta. Nej, jag tycker inte Gustafsson är en expressionist; det handlar mer om att kliva in i sig och blunda fram musiken. I stycke nummer 4 vänder han sig så tydligt inåt som i en dröm. Suggererar sig själv liksom in i medveten sömn bortom det vanliga medvetandet sönderslitet av världens nuvarande konflikter. Sömn i dröm för att travestera Erik Lindegren. Här söker han allt som inte finns -helhet, fred... Ja, fyll i själva. Och efter den vaggande, rullande, mullrande, vackra musikvägen med saxofonen (genomgående baryton) träder han slutligen in i ett klimax - men utan den där vulkaniska utlevelsen. I dag gäller mer en inre sprängkraft, tycks hans saxofon sjunga när han rör sig ur ljudrum in i nästa ljudrum. Stämningarna är lite olika, ibland trotsiga, ofta som en drömsk sorgemusik men utan några vissna kransblommor, bara visionen av växande kraft. Så vandrar albumet ut, musiken liksom släntrar iväg i fotstegs rytmer som knycker till lite okynnigt ibland. Fire! har skapat ett musikrum mitt i tiden.
OrkesterJournalen/Jazz (SE)

Steve Albini er en slags studiotekniker-legende innen punkrock og omegn. Det handler ikke nødvendigvis om kvaliteten på musikken, men om hvilken filosofi som legges til grunn for å spille inn musikk, (samt fintfølelsen han skal ha for å mikke opp trommer muligens). Det er ikke noe kødd med Albini. Han er punkrock-entusiasten som etter å ha startet med studioarbeid på åttitallet valgte seg et arbeidsetos som brøt fullstendig med den kapitalistiske tenkningen som gjennomsyrer den kommersielle musikkbransjen. Bandet booker studiotid, kommer inn og rigger opp, Albini setter ut mikrofoner, bandet spiller og Albini gjør opptak. Ikke vanskeligere enn det. Og nå har Fire! vært der, i Albinis studio, Electrical Audio i Chicago, og spilt inn fem spor som er å finne på deres nye album, Testament. Ettersom Gustafsson selv har et visst punkrock-etos til grunn for sitt virke, så passer jo det fint, og vi skal ikke se bort fra at det å jobbe med Albini kan ha vært et mål i seg selv. Resultatet bør uansett ikke overraske. Det er Fire! slik vi kjenner dem, med fokus på bass, trommer og saksofon, men nå med et uttrykk mer skåret inn til beinet enn noen gang. Her er ingen andre elementer utover bandets instrumentale kjerne, ikke noe «live elektronikk», ikke noe fløyte og ikke noe lap steel-gitar. Tilbake er et uttrykk kondensert i all sin massive tyngde og introverte energi. Med et gjennomgående sakte driv der bass og trommer jobber rundt hverandre i minimalistiske rytmefigurer, til tider med fornøyelige Bill Ward-utskeielser i spillet til Werliin, har Gustafsson en levende og pulserende grunn å ligge over med sine sorgtunge melodier og tilbakeholdne hyl. Gitt det nakne uttrykket kommer også de mer finfølte detaljene til sin rett, som den besnærende forskyvingen i rytmen et stykke ut i spor to, der Werliin og Berthling saktner ned og lar rytmen falle bakpå med en underlig, fremmedgjørende effekt. Hvem sitt testamente dette handler om, er derimot ikke godt å si, men heldigvis har ikke ilden sluknet i Fire! riktig enda.
Jazznytt (NO)

Mer avskalat än på Testament har åtminstone inte jag hört trion Fire! på skiva tidigare. Inspelat i Steve Albinis studio Electrical Audio i Chicago i december 2022 är Testament det åttonde albumet med Mats Gustafsson, Johan Berthling och Andreas Werliin, där You liked me five minutes ago från 2009 banade väg för den mix av frijazz, noise, psykedelisk rock och fri improvisation som präglat deras musik sedan dess. Emellanåt har den ljudbild trion målat upp på skiva haft penseldrag från elektronik, flöjter eller udda infall från gäs-ter som Jim O'Rourke (albumet Unreleased? från 2011) och Oren Ambarchi (In the mouth a hand från 2012). Inget fel alls med det, men här är det frågan om raka rör, där kombi-nationen av Gustafssons barytonsax, Berthlings elbas och Werliins trummor raffinerats för att stå helt på egna ben. Och det är synnerligen stabila sådana, helt utan skidskytte-bendarr, där Berthlings tunga bas och Werliins trummor skapar ett extremt stabilt fundament för Gustafssons djupt penetrerande barytonspel genom fem tunga kompositioner varierande i längd mellan dryga fem och dryga tio minuter. Avskalat är bara förnamnet, och emfas och kraft de tilltalsnamn som präglar detta tungviktarexempel på vad som lika gärna skulle kunna benämnas friformsrock som friformsjazz. Bäst i mina öron är stycket The dark inside of cabbage, men känslan av suggestion genomsyrar hela albumet.

Dopo i fasti di "Echoes" Mats Gu-stafsson (sax), Johan Berthling (basso) e Andreas Werliin (batteria), i tre membri-base dei Fire!, tornano completamente da soli, senza alcun ospite né altri strumenti che i loro propri personali, con cinque tracce registrate a Chi-cago nello studio di Steve Albini direttamente in analogico. Nel nome dell'ingegnere del suono sta, almeno in parte, il perché di questo radicale back-to-basics che mette in ordine processi ritmici rock ora frizzantini e complicati (Work Song For A Scattered Past), ora austeri come una marcia funebre (The Dark Inside Of Cabbage), ora in quieto levare dal mood vagamente reggae (Running Bison Breathing Entity Sleeping Reality), sempre col sax che punteggia e pennella. Ma ovviamente anche sfaldamenti jazz della batteria col basso e il sax che osservano di lato (Four Ways Of Dealing With One Way) e una magnifica divagazione a tre che strugge i sensi (One Testament One Aim One More To Go Again). Disco inevitabilmente minore, interlocutorio non qualitativamente ma per riserva d'ossigeno al futuro, non sia mai che "Testament" voglia dire quel che significa la parola.
Blow Up (IT)

Wenn eine Band ihr Album „Testament" betitelt, lässt das nichts Gutes ahnen. Genau diesen Titel wählte MATS GUSTAFSSON aber für das neue Opus seines Trios FIRE! mit Bassist Johan Berthling und Drummer Andreas Werliin (Rune Grammofon/Cargo). Nun war Optimismus noch nie das Markenzeichen des Trios, und auch diesmal spielen sie wieder, als gäbe es kein Morgen. Ihr ebenso brachialer wie präziser Powerrock 3 la Fugazi, bei dem das Saxofon die Gitarre ersetzt, ist hoffentlich trotzdem kein finales Zeichen, denn Gustafsson und Co. zeigen sich einmal mehr in spielerischer Bestlaune.
Jazzthetik (DE)

Was war zuerst da? Das Testament von Fire! oder meines? Das Hendl oder das Ei? Wir können es unmöglich errechnen, erkennen aber in der Fire!-Musik die schon traditionellen Stärken, als da wären: der E-Bass von Berthling als Rückgrat vor dem fantasielustigen Schlagwerk von Werliin und dem eruptiven Baritonsaxofon Gustafssons. Also ziemlich eins zu eins das Konzept der Experience von Johann Sebastian Hendrix – nur halt mit Sax statt mit Stromruder. Die erhofften Finessen mögen vielleicht etwas auf der Strecke bleiben, aber das macht fast gar nix. Auf die Arrangements ist Verlass, und die häufig gleiche Systematik birgt durchaus gewisse Schönheiten in sich, die man auch erst einmal aufspüren und ausgraben muss. Das ist in etwa wie mit den Schwammerln: Hat man endlich das erste gefunden, fallen einem die nächsten fast von selber ins Körberl. Anders gesagt: Ich hör' diesen Fire!-Sound schon sehr gern, in den Himmel loben würde ich ihn aber auch nicht vollautomatisch. Dazu fehlt mir, verglichen mit früheren Platten, etwas die Ambition. Einzige Ausnahme: das finale One Testament. One Aim. One More To Go. Again. Das atmet die Luft der unbedingten Freiheit bzw. von Coltranes A Love Supreme wenigstens in Ansätzen. Es ist ein bisschen wie so oft bei Gustafsson in letzter Zeit: Absolut große Worte treffen auf relativ große Musik. Eventuell wäre ein zweites, punktuell nachjustiertes Testament eine Überlegung wert ...
FreiStil (AT)

Mit rührendem Downtempo-Bass als Loop, sich schleppend anschließendem Beat und surrendem, grollendem, brüllendem Baritonsax, das, in Zwangsarbeit geknechtet, mit Ochsengespann Caobastämme aus dem Dschungel schleppt – wie einst bei B. Traven. In den Hayfoot-Strawfoot-Tagen, an die Fire! mit stupidem Links-Rechts-Beat erinnert, hielt man 'die da unten' dumm wie Kohlköpfe, heute feixt zynische Dummheit als das neue 'Normal', aus dem Gustafsson jedoch dickköpfig röhrend und mit ploppendem Spott ausschert. Einbahnstraßen machen melancholisch und brummig, Werliin ertrommelt mit Steinschlag-Verve Auswege in alle Richtungen. Gustafsson brütet elegisch über den Todesschlaf der Büffel, denen einst der Atem Gottes das Fell flauschte – den Schlaf der Vernunft stört Werliin mit leichtem Tickeln, schrottigem Klappern, bis zur brüllenden Eruption des Baritons und des knurrigen Basses, die mit ihrem anderen Groove und wildem Aufschrei wachzurütteln versuchen. Für den fünften Track wird Gustafsson zum fauchenden, schlabbernden, grollenden, trauernden Biest, zu dumpfem Bass, zu unheimlichem und dräuendem, immer querschlägerischer polterndem und donnerndem Drumming, das das Bariton zum Brüllen anstachelt.
Bad Alchemy (DE)