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Fire! Orchestra: Exit!

John Kelman By

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Sometimes it's best not to predict. If the idea of expanding Fire!'s core trio of saxophonist/electric pianist Mats Gustafsson, bassist Johan Berthling and drummer Andreas Werlin into Fire! Orchestra's massive, 28-piece behemoth was based on the trio's extant discography— You Liked Me Five Minutes Ago (Rune Grammofon, 2009), Unreleased (Rune Grammofon, 2011), and In the Mouth of a Hand Rune Grammofon, 2012)—then a relentless album of high energy and high volume density would be expected. Which makes Exit! a complete and utter surprise, and in the best possible way.

That's not to say there isn't plenty of cacophonous chaos amidst Exit!'s two-part, multi-episodic, continuous 44-minute suite; when there is, beyond its six reeds and five brass, a total of three keyboardists, four bassists and four drummers means plenty of potential for some seriously joyous noise, and given Fire!'s predisposition for unfettered and unrelenting improvisation, it's no surprise that, at times, the music builds to wave after wave of climactic peaks. And even when the dynamics drop, there's plenty of angularity clearly not meant for the faint-of-heart.

Still, Exit!'s biggest surprise—though, following Gustafsson's career in particular, perhaps this should not be a surprise—is that it is a more dynamic piece that, if not exactly beautiful, does break down into quieter passages of greater clarity that allow for Arnold de Boers' text to be delivered—from near-lyricism to ululating freak-outs—by three singers including Sofia Jernberg, whose 2012 Trondheim Jazz Festival performance with The New Song made her an inevitable participant here.

There's still plenty of freedom, and room for extremes like screaming, whammy bar-driven electric guitars and electronics from a number of sources including Gustafsson, whose occasional unmistakable solo—here, on tenor saxophone rather than the baritone more commonly associated with Fire! (leaving that to fellow Swede, Atomic saxophonist Fredrik Ljungkvist)—is of the visceral, cathartic nature that's become a personal signature. But with its broader dynamic range and Gustafson's conducting, Exit! is somehow more eminently accessible than Fire!'s usual work, the inevitable consequence of past large ensembles like bassist Charlie Haden's Liberation Music Orchestra and keyboardist Sun Ra's Arkesta. Still, neither of these precedents had Berthling and Weliin's joined-at-the-hip grooves, which drive most of the proceedings. Further bolstered with additional players including drummer Raymond Strid and ex-Esbjorn Svensson bassist Dan Berglund, they're even more potent as the group shuffles through a variety of meters ranging from the ¾ ostinato that drives the opening of "Exit! Part One" and the slower, greasier groove in its second half, to the fiery 5/4 rhythm that emerges from the freer opening of "Part Two."

Exit! ultimately ends with a cluttered free-for-all the builds from sparer, more defined components to an ending more in keeping with Fire!'s usual modus operandi, as more and more of the musicians enter the fray, leading to five minutes of truly joyful abandon. It's a fitting ending to this expanded version of Fire! that's unequivocally its greatest accomplishment to date. Broader instrumentation and a stronger sense of construction make Exit! both an exhilarating first experience and one to return to time and again, as its multiplicity of rewards unfold with each and every listen.

Track Listing: Exit! Part One; Exit! Part Two.

Personnel: Marian Wallentin: voice; Emil Svanängen: voice, guitar; Sofia Jernberg: voice; Niklas Barnö: trumpet; Magnus Broo: trumpet; Emil Stransberg: trumpet; Mats Äleklint: trombone; Mer Äke Holmlander: tuba; Anna Högberg: alto saxophone; Mats Gustafsson: ten saxophone, live electronics; Fredrik Ljungkvist: baritone saxophone, clarinet; Christer Botheʹn: bass clarinet, guimbri; Jonas Kullhammar: bass saxophone; Andreas Söderström: guitar; Sören Runolf: guitar; David Stackenäs: guitar; Sten Sandell: piano, electronics; Joachim Nordwall: electronics; Thomas Halonsten: organ; Johan Berthling: electric bass; Joel Grip: bass; Joe Williamson: bass; Dan Berglund: bass; Andreas Werliin: drums; Thomas Mera Gartz: drums; Joyan Holmegard: drums; Raymond Strid: drums.

Title: Exit! | Year Released: 2013 | Record Label: Rune Grammofon

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