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Fire! Orchestra: Echoes


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Fire! Orchestra: Echoes
The story of supersized jazz orchestras is not pretty. The scene was set by the bleaching deracination of Paul Whiteman and the elephantine bombast of Stan Kenton, bandleaders whose craving for approval by the music establishment fatally compromised their art. Good taste came later with leaders such as Carla Bley and London's Keith Tippett, who proved that, in the right hands, swing and nuance could co-exist with size and power.

Since around 2010, there have been some exciting developments in Scandinavia, too. One of these was Norwegian drummer Gard Nilssen's shortlived Supersonic Orchestra. With only sixteen members, the ensemble did not literally qualify as supersized, but within that sixteen were three double bassists and three drummers. Scaled up, the lineup would have numbered close to a hundred and, meanwhile, when required, the impact of the triple-strength bass and drums sections alone was akin to that of a lightning bolt. Supersonic, which was bankrolled by the Molde International Jazz Festival in 2019, only released one album, If You Listen Carefully the Music Is Yours (Odin, 2020), and it is a widescreen technicolour epic.

Another Scandinavian outfit of note is Fire! Orchestra, a mainly Swedish affair formed around 2000 by reeds player and baritone saxophone Jedi Mats Gustafsson, bassist Johan Berthling and drummer Andreas Werliin. Echoes, the orchestra's seventh album, has a 43-piece lineup (almost as many as Tippett's Centipede).

Fire! has a reputation for high-decibel, shamanic free-jazz designed to shave your ass. But it is in reality a nuanced affair that also counts melodicism, groove and subtlety among its charms. It is these last three qualities which define the 2CD / 3LP, 110-minute Echoes. Sure, there are a few moments of full on, turned up to eleven, Sun Ra Arkestra-esque space chords. But they are infrequent and mostly crop up on the second CD during the fifth and sixth of the seven "Echoes" around which the album is built. Each of the seven is anchored to a loping bass and drums groove, meaning that no matter how out things (occasionally) get, one always knows where one is, and that is among friends on a metaphorical dancefloor.

Check out opener "Echoes: I See Your Eye Part 1" on the YouTube clip below. The sense of space is immense, created by a string quartet (whose two violins and two cellos are recorded so as to sound more like a chamber orchestra), an irresistible, roomy groove, and Gustafsson's rough-hewn baritone saxophone. (The track resonates strongly with baritone saxophonist Alessandro Meroli's quasi-orchestral score for an imagined movie, Notturni, released in 2020 on Italian label Space Echo). Not everybody is on mic on this or most of the other tracks on the album. Sometimes, as in the second and fourth "Echoes," they sound like they might be. At other times, particularly in the interludes between the "Echoes," smaller breakout groups are featured: hand drums and African chordophones, a string quartet, electronica.

Echoes delivers an unbroken arc of adventure, wonder and fun.

Track Listing

CD1: Echoes: I See Your Eye Part 1; Echoes: Forest Without Shadows; Echoes: To Gather It All; Once; Sliding Whisper Of Pain; Echoes: Lost Eyes In Dying Hand; Welcoming You; Drinking Your Dream; CD2: Echoes: A Lost Farewell; Nothing Astray; All Falling; In Those Veins; A Silvernet; Echoes: Cala Boca Menino; Double Loneliness; Respirations; Not Yet Born; The Blind Courage Of Life; Echoes: I See Your Eye Part 2.


Mats Gustafsson
Johan Berthling
bass, acoustic
Additional Instrumentation

Joselin Runsteed: violin; Anna Lindal: violin; My Hellgren: cello; Amalie Stathem: cello; Goran Kajfes: trumpet, slide trumpet; Niklas Barno: trumpet; Susana Santos Silva: trumpet; Tobias Wiklund: trumpet; Mats Aleklint: trombone; Maria Bertel: trombone; Per Ake Holmlander: tuba; Heida Mobeck: tuba; Per Johansson: sopranino saxophone, bass flute; Anna Hogberg: alto saxophone, flute; Signe Emmeluth: alto saxophone; Julia Strzalek: alto saxophone, flute; Lars Ulander: alto saxophone, flute; Mette Rasmussen: alto saxophone, flute; Fredrik Ljungkvist: tenor saxophone; Alberto Pinton: baritone saxophone, clarinet, bass flute; Daniel Gahrton: baritone saxophone; flute; Dror Feiler: alto saxophone, soprillo saxophone, slide saxophone, flute, bells; Per Johansson: oboe, bassoon, bass clarinet, contrabass clarinet, flute; Christer Bothen: bass clarinet, guembri, donso n goni; Isak Hedtjam: clarinet; Andreas Roysum: bass clarinet, clarinet, flute; Martin Hederos: Fender Rhodes, organ; Alex Zethson: piano, synthesizer; Sten Sandell: piano; Kjell Nordeson: vibraphone, glockenspiel; Mats Lindstrom: electronics; Reine Fiske: guitar; Niklas Fite: banjo; Elsa Bergman: double bass; Juan Romero: percussion, berimbau. Guests: Mariam Wallentin: vocal (1: 3); David Sandstrom: vocal (1: 5); Tomas Oberg: (2: 4); Joe McPhee: vocal (2: 8), tenor saxophone (1: 5).

Album information

Title: Echoes | Year Released: 2023 | Record Label: Rune Grammofon



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