By Howard Mandel | Published June 2020
Late Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki conducted the original “Actions For Free Jazz Orchestra,” which was performed in 1971 by top European improvisers. He was eager “to call on [the] unlimited technical possibilities” jazz musicians offered over nonimprovising orchestral performers, according to the liner notes of Fire! Orchestra’s latest album. And he achieved a rare balance between free-improv and composition, using visual scores instead of standard notation.
Baritone saxophonist Mats Gustafsson’s revisitation of the piece with his trans-European ensemble doubles the original’s length, but adheres to Penderecki’s plan for episodic engagement among select instruments, creating variable densities and occasionally emerging bass lines. The single-track Actions unfolds gradually with subtle timbral contrasts—a spare ringing guitar, festering organ pads—and solos that imbue colors rather than explosive energies. There’s even a harmonized tutti section with an emphatic end point. Gustaffson, who also conducts, turns in a climactic passage—beginning at 28:31—that’s just as gutsy as Peter Brötzmann’s spotlit part was the first time around. The European players here all seem to have open ears, collaborating with a suspenseful linear sense, yet different “actions”—
a flute air, tom-toms on low boil—emerge as key points after each listen. There’s some wild polyphony as the orchestra approaches its conclusion, but kudos are most deserved for Fire!’s sensitive deployment of creative freedoms within generous, although still defined, boundaries.
Actions: Actions For Free Jazz Orchestra. (40:01)
Personnel: Goran Kajfeš, Niklas Barnö, Susana Santos Silva, trumpet; Reine Fiske, guitar; Per Åke Holmlander, tuba; Maria Bertel, trombone; Anna Högberg, alto saxophone; Mats Gustafsson, baritone saxophone; Per Texas Johansson, tenor saxophone, clarinet, flute; Christer Bothén, bass clarinet; Alex Zethson, Hammond organ; Elsa Bergman, bass; Torbjörn Zetterberg, electric bass; Andreas Werliin, drums; Céline Grangey, live sound.