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Fire! - You Liked Me Five Minutes Ago

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Artist: Fire!

Album: You Liked Me Five Minutes Ago

Label: Rune Grammofon

Review date: Nov. 20, 2009


Fire - "If I Took Your Hand..." (You Liked Me Five Minutes Ago)


With a name like Fire! and a line-up involving a horn player from Peter Brötzmann’s Chicago Tentet and the Sten Sandell Trio’s bassist, one might expect You Liked Me Five Minutes Ago to be a bit of good old-fashioned free jazz kablooey. But the association that best explains the sound of this Swedish trio, which comprises Mats Gustafsson (reeds, electronics, Fender Rhodes), Johan Berthling (guitar, bass, organ), and Andreas Werlin (drums), is Discaholics Anonymous. Not that there’s anything here that sounds like Gustafsson’s free noise collaboration with Thurston Moore and Jim O’Rourke. But it sounds more like it was made by guys who are conscious of the contents of their record collection than by guys who are conscious of their collective discography, which is admittedly a diverse one; besides the aforementioned ensembles, this trio’s family tree branches out to the Thing, AALY Trio, Tape, Wildbirds & Peacedrums, and collaborations with such unalike players as Hamid Drake and Oren Ambarchi.

“If I Took Your Hand…” opens the record with a groove that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Alice Coltrane’s Ptah, The El Daoud, but certain elements get the sort of up-front placement in the mix that is usually reserved for the lead voice in a pop song. First, Berthling’s woody acoustic bass dominates the mix so thoroughly that it’s easy to miss the electronics swirling it like goldfish around the ankles of a fountain-targeting penny-pincher, then Gustafsson’s tenor towers over Wallentin’s double-time drum accents so thoroughly they may as well not be there. While he’s done good work in fairly minimal settings – his duo Apertura with David Grubbs comes to mind – Gustafsson seems under-challenged by this unchanging rhythm, so that his hackle-raising wail feels more like something delivered on demand than something that the music really needs.

At first, “But Sometimes I Am” seems like more of the same, only slower. Then Mats reins in and lets Werlin’s wife, Mariam Wallentin, take over with a bit of fluttering scat singing that is less busy and more appealing than anything she and Werlin did on their over-rated debut Heartcore. About twelve minutes later the tune undergoes a second reductive change that is less expected and even more effective as Werlin leans into a classic Neu! beat rendered smoking by the acid electric guitar and piano tones that Berthling and Gustafsson pour over it. It’s like nothing else any of them have ever done, and no less effective for being blatantly derivative. Gustafsson usually makes a virtue of virtuosity, but here his limited keyboard chops serve him even better; unable to wow us with athletic facility, he opts for trenchant tone and texture choices instead.

These sounds also dominate the next track, which sounds like an Oneida dirge with a Max Gustafsson sax solo bolted on top. The relatively brief title tune closes things with a retreat into familiarity; its combination of honks and handclaps sounds pretty much exactly what you’d expect Gustafsson’s trio The Thing to sound like if Werlin took over the drummer’s stool.

This record is too patchy to end up in either Berthling or Gustafsson’s top drawer. But even its less stellar moments are delivered with sufficient enthusiasm to keep things diverting, and “But Sometimes I Am” manages to reconcile their diverse enthusiasms in a way that seems so obvious and right that one is left wondering why no one’s done it before.

By Bill Meyer

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