She Sleeps, She Sleeps

What’s in a name? Whenever I see that band title, I picture a small boy running down a suburban street crying a warning to anyone that might hear. A clamour will arise, sirens must wail and soon, surely, battalions shall arrive ready to face down the flames and threat of destruction licking at the night sky. Or I hear a barked order, a command yelped to an elite group of military men ready to dispatch a recognised foe in plain view. Either way, it sounds to me like an alert. Fire! Be on your guard! There is trouble coming and you must be ready to flick a switch.

The trio of Mats Gustafsson, Johan Berthling and Andreas Werliin quite possibly decided upon that name some seven years ago as an invocation of tempestuous properties and potential combustion within their joining together as players as well as paying tribute and homage to the free and improvised jazz spirit once blessed with the furious determination of Fire Music. Again, what’s in a name?

This question spills over further into the individual titles which adorn Fire!’s music. As with their previous four albums, the pieces on She Sleeps, She Sleeps are given individual headings which could read as poetic miniatures. Lines and phrases which relate to one another and in doing so form a whole. Read those titles as a four-line stanza and they create their own meaning. Scrutinise them in isolation and they become gnomic, inscrutable mantras which dissolve in front of you.

These names all seem to form part of Fire!’s identity; given names which bestow presence and persona. Recent years have seen Gustafsson, Berthling and Werliin working together in the 30-piece Fire! Orchestra, subsuming themselves within a brave if occasionally unmalleable revision of 21st century big band jazz. She Sleeps, She Sleeps finds the trio stripped down further than ever before, further back than the thunderous noise rock of their past work without the orchestra. It’s a record which probes into the roots of the individuals’ unvarnished playing and then reconstructs it as group identity.

‘She Owned His Voice’ begins as ceremonial offering, a beckoning pulse which is then stretched around Berthling’s plucked double bass and Werliin’s delicate percussive swing before Gustatsson sweeps in with a gush of heavy breath through saxophone valves. The rhythm section progressively grows busier and more agitated while Gustafsson continues to emit elongated gasps and moans. It sounds like a summoning, the record continuing in this vein throughout. The splicing of free jazz playing with drone-pop motifs bring to mind a darker-hued variant of Pharoah Sanders’ explorations on his 1973 Village of the Pharoahs LP.

The title piece (or, at least, the second number which happens to share its name with the album) brings the trio together with the slightly malevolent entity of Oren Ambarchi’s guitar which spices itself throughout ‘She Sleeps, She Sleeps’ as metallic background sheen triggering a dank, horror noir feel. Gustafsson’s sax wails in plaintive resignation while, towards the piece’s end, what sounds like a low-flying cloud of electric bees approaches and swarms, rendering the environment volatile and charged, before vanishing just as quickly. ‘She Bid A Meaningless Farewell’ is a brief, barely-there workout which swiftly escalates into higher registers before sudden dispersal and exit.

Finally, ‘She Penetrates The Distant Silence, Slowly’ begins with pulled bass strings in which you can hear the creak and weight of Berthling’s fingers (this is very much a record for double bass fans) and the group build steadily to the moment in which Gustafsson howls a healing saxophone sigh which turns into a beautifully bruised blues. It goes beyond late night lonesome as the piece rises in volume and emotion before finally pitching players and listeners alike into dark, solitary emptiness. Only the names are left, vibrating like exhaled breath in the air, applying their own meaning and designation.

The Quietus Digest

Sign up for our free Friday email newsletter.

Support The Quietus

Our journalism is funded by our readers. Become a subscriber today to help champion our writing, plus enjoy bonus essays, podcasts, playlists and music downloads.

Support & Subscribe Today