Fire! Orchestra is an exponentially larger and more structured version of Fire!, the Nordic experimental super trio of Mats Gustafsson (sax), Johan Berthling (bass guitar), and Andreas Werlin (drums).
The original trio developed a fresh approach to improvised music that drew on influences ranging from free jazz, psychedelic rock, and noise. After years of recording and touring together, the trio became restless, resulting in its members enlisting 25 more elite musicians to form Fire! Orchestra, complete with strings, reeds, winds, and electronics. This group's M.O. is to (mis)treat various traditions and perspectives in creative music in order to carve fresh routes in improvised music, affected equally by their inspirations of garage, punk, Krautrock, electro-acoustic, industrial, post-bop and free jazz, prog rock, Tropicalia, psych, and dub. The 28-member group is drawn from the rosters of the Swedish jazz, improv, and rock scenes, and possesses the elegance and lucidity of the righteous free jazz big bands of the past, from the Sun Ra Arkestra to Keith Tippett's Centipede and Globe Unity Orchestra, rebuilding, distorting, developing, and transforming everything they encounter into a unique musical signature, as evidenced by the group's 2013 freewheeling debut, Exit, and following through with the more formal but no less adventurous Arrival in 2019, with seven composed works.
This Nordic experimental supergroup originally consisted of core trio Gustafsson, Berthling, and Andreas Werlin, who released music under the name Fire! The project came to light in 2009 when the trio was booked to play a gig at Riche in Stockholm. They followed the performance with the five-track album You Liked Me Five Minutes Ago on Norwegian label Rune Grammofon (all subsequent recordings for the trio and the orchestra also appear on the label) and played live in Scandinavia and on festival dates throughout Europe. In 2010, the group joined forces with musician Jim O'Rourke and the four of them toured Japan together, leading to the release of Fire! With Jim O'Rourke. Australian multi-instrumentalist Oren Ambarchi was the next collaborator, and they subsequently recorded the album Fire! With Oren Ambarchi. In 2013, the group cherry-picked 28 members from the Scandinavian jazz, improvisation, and avant-garde rock music scenes to supplement the core band's sound with vocals, trumpet, trombone, alto sax, tenor sax, bass sax, baritone sax clarinet, bass clarinet, guimbri, guitar, synthesizer, harmonium, piano, organ, keyboards, electronics, electric bass, acoustic bass, and drums. This resulted in Exit!, which was recorded, mixed, and mastered in Stockholm and was followed by a European tour. Enter! was released in early 2014, this time as a studio session recorded in Gothenburg, and their debut for Rune Grammofon was followed later that year by the live Second Exit. Ritual, Fire! Orchestra's third studio album for Rune was released in the spring of 2016 and followed by the through-composed Arrival in 2019.
In early 2020, Fire! Orchestra performed and recorded their own reading of the great Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki's seminal composition "Actions for Free Jazz Orchestra" (1971) as commissioned by the Sacrum Profanum festival in Kraków in 2018.
The first performance of the work occurred in 1971 at Donaueschingen Festival, and featured the New Eternal Rhythm Orchestra, a group of 14 international jazz heavyweights assembled by Don Cherry, conducted by Penderecki. The composer had heard Globe Unity Orchestra a couple of years before and was taken by the possibility of working with musicians outside the classical world. The challenge was to find the proper balance of composition and improvisation.
Fire! Orchestra implemented almost identical instrumentation with that of the 1971 performance. The primary difference in orchestration being a tuba inserted into the lineup to replace one of the trombones. The 2018 performance clocked in at some 40 minutes; considerably longer than the original version. Rune Grammofon released the performance as Actions in early 2020. ~ James Pearce, Rovi