By Dave Cantor | Published February 2021
In its incarnation as a trio, as well as a big band, the sparks igniting Fire! generally come from Mats Gustafsson.
For about 30 years, the Swedish multi-instrumentalist has moved among the jazz, free-improv and rock worlds, showcasing acuity on baritone saxophone, flute and electronics, as he does on Defeat, a follow-up to the ensemble’s Actions from 2020. In a trio format here, Fire! occasionally takes on a calmer aspect, finding cavernous grooves on “each millimeter of the toad, part 2.” Bassist Johan Berthling and drummer Andreas Werliin dig in as Gustafsson plays relatively straight, adding in skronky embellishments on occasion, supported by a few guest horns. It’s by no means a betrayal of the band’s past, one that rakes in amorphous improvs as much as it does pummeling certitude—though the charming chorale that closes out “each millimeter” comes as a definite surprise.
For both the opener (“a random belt. rats you out.”) and closer (“alien (to my feet)”), Gustafsson focuses on the flute, making the music feel a bit lighter, even as the band retains its sense of adventure. There’s an almost Harold Alexander-like exuberance to his work here, though, rooted more in the European avant-garde than 1970s groove music. But the fact that Fire! can cover so much territory within the free-jazz context—and on such a regular basis—means that we’re not only likely to embark on new explorations with the troupe shortly, but we’ll also be encountering new vistas of sound along the way.