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.