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F-IRE WORKS VOL.2 Compilation Album Reviews


**** Jazz’s angelic upstarts expand the genre’s boundaries

This album encapsulates what the F-ire collective is all about – a heterogeneous collection of young musicians who are constantly mutating into numerous outfits. The main exhibits on this two-CD set are the tracks by Acoustic Ladyland and Polar Bear, who have been flavour of the month for, well, months. Nonetheless there are equally strong tracks by, among others, Ingrid Laubrock, Jonny Phillips’s Oriole, Robert Mitchell’s Panacea and Julia Biel. All of these artists are, by swimming against the tide of an increasingly homogenised jazz scene, alerting the world to their multifaceted talents. There is a God after all, it would appear.


CHRIS MAY, All About Jazz

The inventions and glories of London’s F-IRE collective have been well documented here this year, and several tracks on this double-disc setpieces like Polar Bear’s Fluffy (I Want You), Acoustic Ladyland’s Remember, and Julia Biel’s Where Is She Now?revisit the highlights. The album also serves up a heap of new material, most of it from CDs to be released later this year or during ’06.

So what future treats are coming our way? Plenty, if these advance tasters are anything to go by. Among them are two very different projects from Ingrid Laubrock, which the saxophonist flagged up in her recent AAJ interview. Sonic Snapshot is from her soprano/piano duo collaboration with Liam Noble, featuring (mostly) standards with a twistand anyone who caught the duo’s Tristano/Monk/Mingus set at the Vortex a week or so ago will vouch for the twistsdue for release in the New Year.

Say Anything, which closes the second discfor the probable reason that it would be impossible to find anything else more out and more thrilling to follow itis from Laubrock’s project with her Polar Bear colleague, electronica artist Leafcutter John. It’s truly extraordinary, mind-bending music, with Laubrock all over every tonal and textural inch of the tenor, from the opening foghorn-like bass register sounds up through harmonics hyperspace; Leafcutter John tools realtime-software, morphing electronically-mutated kalimba, melodica, bouzouki, bowls, and gongs alongside her. It’s like listening to the creation of a new sonic language in which the two musicians are already achieving dialogue and having fun. Astonishing and liberating. An album should be released sometime next year.

We’re also promised, via Angels, a new set from guitarist Jonny Phillips’ beautiful inside/outside Brazilia band Oriole, featuring the bliss-out lovely clarinet of Idris Rahman and cello of Ben Davis. Forceful Beast introduces Polar Bear drummer and mainman Seb Rochford’s collaboration with Basquiat Strings, faintly reminiscent of the Kronos Quartet but more beat-driven and further off-planet. Meta Meta is F-IRE artistic director and saxophonist/percussionist Barak Schmool’s deep bass, deep trance, modernised Afro-Cuban orisha repertoire project. Seriously heavy stuff… do try it at home.

As well as Ingrid Laubrock/Leafcutter John’s Say Anything, the second disc introduces other memorable electronic/acoustic initiatives. There are particularly strong tracks from guitarist Jonathan Bratoeff’s Points Of Perception lineup (Idiom), featuring Tom Arthurs on trumpet and Wampa on electric beats; flautist Finn Peters’ tripped out Dr Seuss (The Swede); and Seb Rochford’s Fulborn Teversham project with a fellow Polar Bear/Acoustic Ladyland conspirator, saxophonist Pete Wareham (Taka), offering a controlled riot of new sounds and new textures (check those electronically scrunched-up gong sounds.)

If ’05 has been a wonderful year for the F-IRE collective, and we the audience, on the evidence of this sampler, ’06 sounds like it’s going to be every bit as good, if not even better. Bring it on!


PETER BACON, Birmingham Post

Peter Bacon’s Jazz Diary: There’s no smoke without F-IRE

A Loose Tubes for the 21st Century? It’s a bold but perfectly apt way of looking at the F-IRE Collective who arrive in their full splendour at the CBSO Centre on Friday evening. Remember, Loose Tubes was the big band that revolutionised British jazz in the 1980s, a great, democratic collection of the brightest young jazz musicians. In the players and bands that formed upon its eventual and natural big bang, they form the vibrant ‘establishment’ of the music today.

So, a new generation and a new collective. The difference with F-IRE is that rather than a big band which eventually breaks up into smaller combos, they manage to be a bunch of constantly interacting small groups that sometimes come together to become one big band. The best of the Loose Tubes principal, then, mixed with the kind of repertory company that a record label like Blue Note was able to command in the 1960s, with musicians able to be group leaders on
today’s session and sidemen or women on someone else’s date tomorrow.

Favourites in the F-IRE stable are Acoustic Ladyland and Polar Bear, both featuring Seb Rochford on drums, Pete Wareham on saxophone and Tom Herbert on bass. Even with that identical core, these bands have very distinctive characters, suggesting their leaders (Wareham and Rochford respectively) are able to call the shots. What is striking listening to the excellent new two-CD sampler of current and future releases from the Collective (F-IRE Works: Volume Two, F-IRECD09) is the extraordinary range of the music.

Jonny Phillips’ Oriole (excellent in concert at the Lichfield Jazz and Blues Festival in the summer) has a light, sunshiny vibe, mixing Spanish guitar, African percussion, classical cello and jazz saxophone. That same saxophonist, Ingrid Laubrock, in duo with pianist Liam Noble, produces a highly abstract, purely acoustic, free jazz exploration of timbre and space. Meta Meta, masterminded by Barak Schmool, is a fascinating exercise in drumming. Spin Marvel takes us into an electric rainstorm of sound that would enliven the most fashionable alternative club night, while Dr Seus remixes the sound of a piccolo in with the huge variety of found
sounds on turntables.

What unites this amazingly diverse selection of music is its vitality, its curiosity, its reluctance to be stuck in that pigeonhole called jazz, its embracing of sound wherever it is found. There is also a feeling that the Collective is very effective in quality control, that the individual musicians know their fellows within the group are their most informed and therefore sternest critics. Self-indulgence is not part of the ethos.



F-IRE Works: Vol.2 ****

Includes tracks by Acoustic Ladyland, Bakehouse, Cloen Revisited, Polar Bear, Jonathan Bratoeff Quartet, Ingrid Laubrock and Liam Noble, Oriole, Squash Recipe, Basquiat Strings, Meta Meta, Panacea, Spin Marvel, Dr Seus, Fulborn Teversham. Rec. 2004-5

It really couldn’t be made any clearer after listening to this stimulating, fantasy-fuelled 2-CD compilation that there’s no such thing as an actual F-ire ‘sound’. Although the young London-based creative jazz music collective started out a decade ago learning to play latin and African groove music, it has now become a hotbed of diverse music experimentation and this 2-CD compilation on its recording offshoot sums this up well.

CD-1 draws on tracks from recent CD releases by a host of boundary-pushing, distinctive young bands some of which can pretty musch be held responsible for making the UK contemporary jazz scene tick so loudly at the moment, among them names you’re likely to have heard before, Polar Bear and Acoustic Ladyland, and lesser know vocalist Julia Biel, guitarist Jonny Phillips’ Oriole and Justin Quinn’s Bakehouse, whose track ‘Don’t Fret’ sounds like an updated version of something off of DJ Giles Peterson’s Impressed CDs. We also get some sneak previews of albums to come – Check out the quirky Hermeto-meets-Stravinsky imaginings of keyboardist Nick Ramm’s Clown Revisited especially.

CD-2’s mainly made up of exclusive recordings featuring an intriguing mix of approaches to using electronics by some of the same artists but in different permusations. The track ‘Treetops’ by the deliciously dream-like folkish jazz singer-songwriter Julia Biel has been cunningly transformed from seductive tango to eelctronic chanson with a chunkily metallic groove by virtue of a remix by drummer Seb Rochford, while an Eno-like riff and sub bass shifts up the gears for the out chorus. Meanwhile flautist Finn Peters’ Dr Seus plays trickily whitty loops of jazz flute and samples over a jaunty hip hop break.

However, most of the material on CD-2 is not so approachable and for much of it patience has its rewards, as repeated listening to Martin France’s Spin Marvel’s suspensefull goth-electronic percussion discussion, the skewed M-Base-type funk-meets-haunting synth-tinted jazz-soul of pianist Robert Mitchell’s Panacea, and the uncompromisingly insidious saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock’s duet with Polar Bear’s digital noise sculptor Leafcutter John all demonstrate. Again, ample proof if needed that F-IRE doesn’t have a ‘sound’ as such, just plenty of thrillingly adventurous things to say.


IAN MANN, Jazz Mann

F-ire Collective – “F-ire Works Volume 2” Back to Music

Not since the jazz boom of the mid 1980s with the emergence of ‘The Loose Tubes’ and ‘The Jazz Warriors’ has there been such a buzz about young British jazz musicians. I don’t mean the “jazz like” singers championed by Michael Parkinson, but something more dynamic and experimental.

The ‘F-ire collective’ started a decade ago and was originally concerned with musical education and outreach work. There is a direct lineage back to the Loose Tubes as F-ire founder Barak Schmool first came to public attention as a member of Django Bates’ Delightful Precipice. Bates contributes liner notes to this new collection. In a slow burning process a number of professional musicians joined the collective and jammed together on a regular basis taking away ideas and incorporating them into their own bands. The unwieldly title “Fellowship For Integrated Rhythmic Expression” was given the snappy acronym F-ire inspired in part by New York’s M-Base movement.

The best known bands under the F-ire umbrella are probably Polar Bear and Acoustic Ladyland. Both have received great critical acclaim and with Polar Bear being nominated for the Mercury Music prize last year they reached a large television audience. Of course, the token jazz entry never actually wins the Mercury award, but with Acoustic Ladyland playing a storming set on Jool’s Holland’s ‘Later’ programme earlier in the year, both bands have been playing to large and very youthful audiences beyond the normal jazz demographic.

Both bands are featured on this new 2 CD collection. The first CD mainly features material that has already been released on album, and is already in the public domain. It is the more accessible CD of the two featuring both Acoustic Ladyland and Polar Bear, plus the guitar ruminations of Justin Quinn, the haunting singing of Julia Biel, and the Latin inflected music of Oriole, under the leadership of guitarist Jonny Phillips. Also featured is fellow guitarist Jonathan Bratoeff whose critically acclaimed “Between Lines” album features saxophonist Peter Wareham and drummer Sebastian Rochford who are members of both Acoustic Ladyland and Polar Bear.

German emigre’ saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock is included in a duet with pianist Liam Noble, and also turns up on CD2 in a duo with Polar Bear’s electronics man Leafcutter John. Laubrock is an important member of F-ire, and leads her own quintet, but her contributions here do not show her at her most accessible. The Collectives rhythmic roots are represented by Barak Schmool’s Meta Meta whose track “Odudua” features more fine guitar playing from David Okumu. To this day the collective continues its educational work.

CD2 is far more experimental than its companion. Much of the material here is yet to be released, or is a one-off collaboration. Electronics and beats feature much more prominently. Sebastian Rochford radically remixes Julia Biel’s “Treetops”. Drummer Martin France, formerly of Loose Tubes and Delightful Precipice and a sideman on 50 albums from right across the jazz spectrum, has finally released his first album as leader “Spin Marvel”. The sound is totally unexpected including his experiments with electronic percussion, sequencing and programming. Although challenging, the track represented here “Black Wing” is worthy of repeated listening.

Finn Peters plays jazzy piccolo over hip-hop beats, and there are further electronic experiments by Ezzthetic and by trumpeter Tom Arthurs, who also appears on CD1 with his band Squash Recipe. Like his colleague Ingrid Laubrock (with whom he collaborated on the band Centripede) Arthurs is not really at his most accessible on this collection.

At £8.99 this collection represents excellent value for money. With its rock, electronic and hip-hop elements it won’t appeal to the jazz purist, but there is some wonderfully inventive playing and writing here, and the elements above are never used to “dumb the music down” as is often the case. With its distinctly British outlook, and its imaginative incorporation of modern influences, I’d rather listen to this than the neo-conservatives like Wynton Marsalis, or those singers on Parkinson. Perhaps ‘Parky’ should have these guys on his show. Does anybody else out there remember The Loose Tubes appearing on ‘Wogan’ back in the 1980s?

F-IRE WORKS VOL.1 Compilation album reviews

JOHN WALTERS, The Guardian

‘Winstone’s voice… also establishes a mood for F-IRE: Works which begins with Shorter Stories’ live recording of At the Fair, a Wayne Shorter tune with lyrics by Winstone. But this 10-track compilation belongs to a new generation of British artists, including young bands such as Polar Bear, Jade Fox, Timeline and Acoustic Ladyland. And just as the DNA of Brit-jazz can be found in prog rock, punk, ambient music and electro, the F-IRE musicians’ tentacles reach everywhere. Most of Jade Fox tour with rapper Ty, and Ingrid Laubrock works with Monica Vasconceles. Tom Arthurs’ Centripede includes bassist Max de Wardener, who, like Timeline drummer Leo Taylor, plays with Mara Carlyle, signed (as is de Wardener) to Matthew Herbert’s Accidental label. Cellist Ben Davis crops up in several bands: Laubrock’s, Oriole, Shorter Stories and his own Basquiat Strings, including Gogmagogs viola player Nell Catchpole. Their track Double-Dares is a moody highlight of F-IRE: Works.’


TOM BARLOW, Jazzwise
In case you haven’t heard, F-IRE is a collective of musicians, bands, dancers and visual artists – the nearest thing we have to an M-Base umbrella, yet musically more diverse. Their expansive identity is well evident in ‘F-ire Works’, a 10-track showcase of some of the smartest bands in town. Robert Mitchell’s Wayne Shorter tribute band, Shorter Stories kicks the album off with ‘At the Fair’, a live, folksy track marked by Norma Winstone¹s vocals and Julian Siegel¹s stirring soprano. A common element throughout many of the tracks is brilliant cellist Ben Davis, whose Basquiat Strings shine on ‘Double Dares’. Also notable is raw tenor saxist Ingrid Laubrock, whose quintet make beautiful work of ‘Clara’. She also appears on French guitarist Jon Bratoeff¹s darkly soulful ‘Wandering Minds’. Watch out for stunning vocalist Juliet Biel too, and her earthy singing on ‘Song for the Sleeping’ – a gorgeous lullaby performed by guitarist Jonny Phillips’ Oriole. Too much to talk about here, from Acoustic Ladyland’s brooding ‘Some Other Sky’, to the harmolodic, Ghanaian funk of ‘Timeline’ or Jade Fox’s anthemic ‘A Space for Lucian’. A sampler of some very fine acts, and a very good album for its own sake.’



The staunchly independent Babel label has been there first with its support for the F-ire Collective, having already released acclaimed albums by Polar Bear and Acoustic Ladyland. These are just two of the bands associated with the London gathering who have made such a big impact on the 2004 BBC Jazz Awards nominations.

Most of those involved are musicians, but dancers and visual artists are also welcome. At the outset, F-ire’s aim was to foster co-operation rather than competition. Now, the collective is launching its own label, in cahoots with Babel. Recording is but one of their expressive outlets, with much time also devoted to live performance and educational workshops.

This compilation provides an introduction to F-ire’s roster of talent, with many players enjoying criss-crossing relationships within each other’s outfits. “At The Fair”, by Robert Mitchell’s Shorter Stories might be perceived as an approachable opening number, but its mellow scatting gives a false impression of F-ire’s output. It’s not exactly an expression of their tendency to experiment and confront staid habits.

Polar Bear’s “Urban Kilt” is the real start of the creative proceedings, selected from one of the year’s best albums. Convoluted rhythmic development carries cross-cutting saxophone themes, Pete Wareham and Mark Lockheart playing with an almost Arabic tonality, bending and twisting their supple lines. The Basquiat Strings shunt the mood again, as Ben Davis heads a classically-trained quintet who are still profoundly influenced by the jazz experience.

As the sequence progresses, it becomes increasingly noticeable how many of these players like to savour their own rounded edges, happy to enunciate more slowly, to reach a softly organic state. Ingrid Laubrock is a prime example of this approach, her “Clara” unfolding slowly, with heightened feeling. Timeline’s “Road Rage” presents another striking contrast, cleverly upping the fusion density, and matching all comers for high speed, time-changing and simultaneous wriggling.

The track by the Jon Bratoeff Quintet passes by unremarkably, and this could explain why he’s the least-familiar artist on show. Oriole features guitarist Jonny Phillips and singer Julia Biel, with their “Song For The Sleeping” providing a remarkable showcase for the latter’s uncategorisable stylings. Not quite jazz, not quite pop, Biel hovers in her own stratosphere.

Tom Arthurs’ Centipede are fidgety writhers, striking angular shapes with tricky grooves and utilising the spiked fork of their leader’s trumpet and Laubrock’s soprano saxophone. Acoustic Ladyland cleverly disguise Jimi Hendrix as they take their initial inspiration even further afield, then guitarist David Okumu’s Jade Fox close up this impressive set, dreamy, slow and swirling, but with a slightly sinister edge.