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Fire!: unreleased?

John Kelman By

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Moving from the studio to a live performance at Tokyo's SuperDeluxe club in the fall of 2010, Fire! both pares down and expands the sonic purview of its 2009 Rune Grammofon debut, You Liked Me Five Minutes Ago. Pared down in that saxophonist Mats Gustafsson, while still tripling on Fender Rhodes and live electronics, sticks solely to the deep-bodied baritone saxophone this time around. Bassist Johan Berthling focuses monolithically on electric bass, eschewing the electric guitar and double-bass of the trio's debut. But while Gustaffson, Berthling and drummer, Andreas Welin work with a slightly more restricted palette, the addition of guest guitarist/synthesist/harmonicist Jim O'Rourke lends unreleased?'s four freely improvised pieces a far broader landscape, and a different kind of density.

The trace elements of Fire!'s debut—In a Silent Way-era Miles Davis and hints of Soft Machine in Berthling's hypnotic, fuzz-toned bass—are gone, as the group's voice emerges more vividly; linked, perhaps, a little more closely to another of Gustafsson's projects, The Thing, though that trio, with bassist Ingebrigt Håker Flaten} and drummer Paal Nilssen-Love, is both inherently more organic and more extreme. Still, Gustafsson—who is only rivaled by Peter Brötzmann (with whom he plays in the German reed man's Chicago Octet/Tentet) in his ability to fill large buildings with a single, unamplified horn—doesn't shy away from intense expressionism, especially towards the end of the nine-minute ..."please, i am released," where O'Rourke's space-aged synth and overdriven guitar octaves create a psychedelic arch over Berthling and Welin's relentlessly throbbing pulse, as the saxophonist screams with unrelenting abandon.

There aren't exactly respites like You Liked Me's ethereal "But Sometimes I am," or overt blues references like the Robert Johnson-meets-Captain Beefheart of its brief title track, but there are dynamic ebbs and flows to give this forty-minute set its shape. "by whom and why am i previously unreleased?"—at just over three minutes, the disc's only track under nine—combines O'Rourke's effected guitar, acting more as a percussive dovetail to Welin's toms, and Gustafsson's extended baritone techniques, tonguing to create his own erratic pulses. As the 17-minute closer, "happy ending borrowing yours," begins with otherworldly sounds—gradually building in volume, over a tumultuous bottom end of bass and drums, to a howling climax of noise and throbbing electronics—the group ultimately shifts gears towards a visceral 6/4 pulse anchored by Welin's firm backbeat and Berthling's persistent ostinato. Viciously hypnotic, it provides a foundation for O'Rourke's unconventional guitar sonics and upper register multiphonics from Gustafsson, into which the saxophonist gradually introduces live electronics to further broaden his coverage, as Welin strengthens the pulse underneath.

Gustafsson's never been for the faint-at-heart, but with Fire! he's come his closest yet to an accessible version of reckless abandon. With the hard rock-edged complexion of Fire! and the addition of O'Rourke to the mix, unreleased? has the potential to appeal to fans of Thurston Moore, early Golden Palominos and a more rhythm-heavy Supersilent, while becoming even more inextricably linked to the more groove-driven aspects of The Thing. For those with extreme dispositions, unreleased? is the perfect catalyst.

Track Listing: Are you both still unreleased?; ...please, i am released; By whom and why am i previously unreleased?; Happy ending borrowing yours.

Personnel: Mats Gustafsson: baritone saxophone, Fender Rhodes, live electronics; Johan Berthling: electric bass; Andreas Welin: drums, percussion; Jim O'Rourke: electric guitar, synthesizer, harmonica.

Title: unreleased? | Year Released: 2011 | Record Label: Rune Grammofon

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