“Hallo, music is our race.”
As the harsh Swedish winter begins to close in, Fire! Orchestra, the 28 piece musical ensemble, brought warmth to the streets of Stockholm with their performance at Fasching Jazz club last night. The group were brought together by Swedish experimental jazz/rock band Fire!, made up by Mats Gustafsson, Johan Berthling and Andreas Werliin, and now annually meet to perform gigs across Scandinavia at the turn of the new year. On the back of last year’s Exit!, a record of variety and imagination, they return this year with ENTER, written by Fire! with lyrics from Joe McPhee.
As the musicians wandered on stage to begin, you could be confused into thinking they were a bunch of strangers mistakenly making their way forward, such was the array in appearance and age, with clothing ranging from suits and shirts to trainers and baggy t-shirts. The second the music began that notion was quickly dispelled.
To the left stood three singers, the back was lined with an assortment of brass, with some strings in front, guitarists either side, three drummers centre stage and Mats Gustafsson in the middle, holding the whole performance together. Such was the close proximity to the stage and the abundance of musicians overflowing off it, the audience were practically in amongst the band themselves, some standing side to side with musicians as they played away. This in turn only heightened the satisfaction, enabling you to see in detail the artists at work, to scrutinise and appreciate their every move. And appreciate it the audience did, a sea of transfixion throughout.
To label the genre of the music is a difficult problem for it spanned so many across the set that it cannot be pinned down to one. Jazz was the loosely defined area, yet it was a far cry away from the sounds of Miles Davis’s trumpet or the music described in a Jack Kerouac novel. It moved in various waves, at times just gentle percussion forging a simple beat whilst at other points it was a hurtling ensemble of noise, blues, jazz and rock all in one frenetic cocktail. The vocalists were completely representative of this variety, all bringing something utterly unique to the performance. Sofia Jernberg voice was an experimental tool, playing with sound and vocals in all directions, whilst Simon Ohlsson offered a deeper, rock based alternative, working nicely in compliment. Most impressive was Mariam Wallentin, whose powerful, emotive performance was the highlight of the early part to the show. Raw and unbridled, words flew high out of her mouth, an instrument in its’ own right.
From all directions the other musicians came and went, all bringing something new and inventive to the table, so much so that it was hard to keep up with what was going on and to give justice to their musicianship. Most prominent however, and the standout performance was the drumming. Raymond Strid offered a glimpse of this earlier in the night for a short, preceding performance. With his large baggy red t-shirt hanging off his shoulders, Strid, more than anyone, gave an appearance of complete relaxation and almost nonchalance, which completely contrasted the frantic energy of his performance. You would be hard pressed to find a more inventive drumming display, a wide concoction of instruments and objects were laced across the drum skin as he hit, scraped and smashed his way through the music. At one point a drum stick flew out of his hand, yet he continued onwards, undeterred, as if nothing had happened, before casually picking up another and pounding forward.
If Strid offered a more nuanced, imaginative performance, it was Andreas Werliin who was the centrepiece to the show. His dynamic, aggressive drumming constantly drove the music onwards, his long hair thrashing around as attacked the drums in front of him in immaculate precision. All around the brass came and went, trumpets blaring out loud. The string ensemble bounced in and around whilst the guitars jammed either side, the improvisation unique and playful.
It was a rare show and a wonderful illustration of the music coming out of Sweden today. If you missed them this year, make sure you are around for their next installment. In this form, it will not disappoint.