Not the most optimistic title for pressing times, but the music sees Fire! tracking new paths and reaching new levels of excellence, still honoring their 12 year old vow of presenting a fresh approach to improvised music. Their debut album, You Liked Me Five Minutes Ago, was released in 2009 to wide international acclaim. “The basic strategy of pairing the expressive energy of free jazz with a sturdy sense of groove has yielded something potent and self-contained” (New York Times). Between this and Defeat there´s been five albums, including collaborations with Jim O´Rourke (Unreleased?, 2011) and Oren Ambarchi (In The Mouth A Hand, 2012).
No two Fire! records sound the same, but with Defeat they have taken their biggest leap so far, with Gustafsson giving the flute a prominent place in the sound image, a surprising and most successful move, his both expressive and ornamental approach given ample room to breathe, especially on the two long tracks bookending the album. In places more subdued than on previous efforts, but with the distinctive bass figures and hypnotic mood fully intact. There are some lively stretches with guests Goran Kajfes and Mats Aleklint, bringing to mind their big band offshoot Fire! Orchestra, albeit on a much smaller scale.
Fire!, Gustafsson´s trio with bassist Johan Berthling and drummer Andreas Werliin, has quieted down somewhat on their new album too. Granted, 2018’s The Hands ended with “I Guard Her To Rest. Declaring Silence”, but still, hearing Gustafsson on flute, of all things, on this disc’s opening track “A Random Belt. Rats You Out” is a surprise (to be sure, he hoots and yawps through the flute, his need for noise irrepressible). Behind him, the rhythm section lays down an almost krautrock groove. Defeat features two guests — Goran Kajfes on quarter-tone trumpet, and Mats Aleklint on trombone and sousaphone — and adding their voices to the ensemble, both as choral elements and as soloists, gives the music a pleasing fullness, particularly on the second half of the two-part “Each Millimeter Of The Toad”. The trance-like patterns Berthling and Werliin play have elements of North African music at times, particularly on “Defeat (Only Further Apart)”, which also features a killer trombone solo and long wavering horn lines like winds blowing across the burning sands. The album’s final track “Alien (To My Feet)” is perhaps its most meditative, Gustafsson’s flute humming and whistling over a bass throb as deep as an undersea trench.
The Wire (UK)