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Firehouse - Live at Glenn Miller Café

Andrew Choate, Signal To Noise

The first track on this CD, "Cyklone Song", is worth the price of the album. It begins with a minute long electric guitar solo - all jagged funk and distorted strums - by John Lindblom, who wrote all the tunes featured here. It sounds like Lindblom uses his whole forearm, maybe even his entire arm - not just his wrist - to attack the strings. Kjell Nordeson's drums pound in, making fast jazz accents at punk speed. The trumpet of Magnus Broo and the tenor sax of Fredrik Ljungkvist slide into the mix with a slowly ascending wind motif over the top of the rollicking rhythm. Shortly before the two minute mark, all the musicians come together to punctuate the small holes in each other's beats, and then they're all off again, blazing out a corner-dashing, high-speed car-chase anthem. Broo takes a nice, long solo later and is prodded along by short, repetitive bursts from the lower end of Ljungkvist's sax while Nordeson throws percussive flourishes all around the sturdy beat.

My only dissatisfaction with this January, 2004 live recording is the buried sound of bassist Johan Berthling - a typically invigorating presence in a session like this. I'm sure the music would have suffered if he wasn't included, but his contributions are hard to pick out. Then again, this may actually show just how deeply entwined he is with the other instrumentalists.

While the first cut is a scorcher, the next few tracks are merely warm: "Slow Glow" sounds just like what the title would imply; "Sing Song" is a mild composition that gets slightly revved up by a Lindblom solo; "Inner Place, Outer Space" is mostly plinky percussion and guitar improv, bolstered near the end by faint, long-held brass lines.

Nordeson's drumming - totally scattered, exact and busy - attracts attention throughout the record, but some of the compositions lose their intensity and urgency, feeling like hastily assembled structures used to keep improvisations in check.
"Nothing Too Eccentric" has a clunky head that frames ten minutes of solid improvising: when the band reconvenes to replay the head in the middle of the composition, the only purpose seems to be to signal that it's now Broo's turn to solo. The improvising from everyone is so inspired and substantial that the brief melodic refrains end up appearing as empty framing devices.

The final track, "What I Say," picks back up where "Cyklone Song" left off: full of boisterous, uncontainable energy and musical enthusiasm. Albert Ayler's influence is all over this track so Ljungkvist's sax is rightly out front, leading the squad through an eight minute eruption. It feels long overdue after the magic and authority of the opening cut. An emotionally draining and releasing track. While much of what comes between the first and last tracks is puddingly mild, "Cyklone Song" and "What I Say" gain strength from their surroundings, becoming an impossibly attractive introduction and a necessary, welcome catharsis by the end.