A white-knuckle ride from start to finish.
Sid Smith 2009
From the aggrieved, visceral tenor sax wailing which harries the first five minutes of this album, you could easily be forgiven for thinking this was another typically idiosyncratic dive into the deep end of out-there improv by Sweden’s Mats Gustafsson.
After all, the dust has barely settled since the release earlier this year of the power-jazz freak-outs of his other outfit, The Thing, with their album Bag It. But after those initial opening moments, it quickly becomes obvious that unlike the other Gustavsson-led trio, Fire! is an altogether more meditative proposition.
Gustafsson (saxes, electronics and Fender Rhodes) is joined by Johan Berthling (acoustic and electric basses, guitar, and Hammond organ) and Andreas Werliin (drums and percussion), and whilst Gustafsson’s trademark honk is never far from the surface, it is tempered by settings that are subtle and gently persuasive.
But Sometimes I Am gradually coalesces around a pulsing Hammond drone, with Werliin delivering one of those sure-footed shuffles which Can’s Jaki Liebezeit used to conjure up. The appearance of vocalist Miriam Wallentin on this track and her Damo Suzuki-like moans and mumbles only strengthens the association with the venerable German avant-rockers.
The mood on other pieces is just as hypnotic. Can I Hold You for a Minute? positively sizzles with distorted, shimmering keyboards, whose single notes are fuzzed-up to near breaking point. The resulting heat-haze, underpinned by steady bass and rolling drums, provides a mesmeric backdrop for Gustafsson to be anything but careful with his sax.
There’s no doubting the impressiveness of the outré fireworks which frequently burst across the album. Yet it’s the sense of control and restraint which is perhaps the most striking aspect of Fire!’s methodology. Rather than letting it all hang out, the tension created in keeping things constantly teetering on the cusp makes this a relative white-knuckle ride from start to finish, albeit with more control than The Thing's wild tangents.