Fire!: Testament

Electric bass and drums play simple, stolid rock ostinati with the saxophone atop variously echoing Brötzmann, Ayler and Mike Osborne


Testament is the latest in a series of Fire! albums that first kindled this trio’s output 15 years ago with You Liked Me Five Minutes Ago (Rune Grammofon, 2009). Nine releases on, including albums such as Unreleased? (Rune Grammofon, 2011) with avant guitarist Jim O’Rourke sharing the billing, the flame is still burning.

This electrifying trio is the nucleus of the big band offshoot Fire! Orchestra, which has released six captivating albums, the debut being the ironically titled Exit (Rune Grammofon, 2013). This scaled-down minimalist line-up couldn’t be in greater contrast to the music created on their previous recording with the Fire! Orchestra, Echoes (2023, Rune Grammofon), which included a staggering 43 musicians in the big band and which additionally involved strings and voices.

The opener, a chant-like Work Song For A Scattered Past, is underpinned by electric bassist Johan Berthling’s strident ostinato bass line and Andreas Werliin’s steadfast drumbeat whilst baritonist Mats Gustafsson periodically emits a furious Peter Brötzmann-like squall of sound from his baritone saxophone.

On the brooding Four Ways Of Dealing With One Way the drone-like quality of Berthling’s rumbling bass vies with Gustafsson’s gentler Ayler-esque baritone, his elongated notes sounding at times more like arco double bass than a saxophone. Gustafsson evinces plaintive, wailing baritone on One Testament. One Aim. One More To Go. Again, which is likewise played over thunderous drums and a repeated, hypnotic bass line.

Throughout the album, there’s an almost menacing sense of foreboding, generated by the stolid fusion of the bass guitar and drums, frequently pounding out a rhythm at a disconcertingly funereal pace. Perhaps, decades ago, Mike Osborne’s trio came close to summoning-up the pent-up tension and subsequent release of blistering energy levels that Gustafsson, Berthling and Werliin evince, but this free jazz trio is positively searing.

Work Song For A Scattered Past; The Dark Inside Of Cabbage; Four Ways Of Dealing With One Way; Running Bison. Breathing Entity. Sleeping Reality; One Testament. One Aim. One More To Go. Again (40.37)
Mats Gustafsson (bar); Johan Berthling (elb); Andreas Werliin (d). Chicago, 14-15 December, 2022.
Rune Grammofon RCD2234