Let's get one thing straight from the get-go: Mats Gustafsson is a beast. The Swedish saxophonist's punk-jazz trio The Thing has barnstormed the contemporary jazz scene and brought the reedman accolades and collaboration work from across the jazz and experimental music spectrum. Rumors swirled that Gustafsson had begun to take an interest in electronic music and programmed sounds, and with that fact in mind this unique super-trio seems that much more organic. Fire! is Gustafsson, bassist/guitarist Johan Berthling of the ambient electronic duo Tape, and drummer Andreas Werlin of experimental pop duo Wildbirds & Peacedrums.
The record begins firmly in the lineage of Alice Coltrane's early 70s work with “If I Took Your Hand,” with Berthling laying down a funky and hypnotic bassline while Gustafsson blows like Sonny Sharrock reincarnated as a reedist. Gustafsson is buried deep in the mix, going utterly wild but only adding texture to the psychedelic funk. It's a bit like watching Jackson Pollock throw paint as he rides by you on a moving sidewalk. Werlin plays like he's taken lessons from Crossfaders, abruptly letting the beat disappear completely before exploding back into the rolling groove with renewed intensity. Elvin Jones and Timbaland would both be proud.
“But Sometimes I Am” opens with cymbal washes and a spare, tensely lyrical bassline. Berthling slowly adds notes like he's picking them up off the fretboard as Gustafsson enters with his trademark octave-melting wails. High-pitched female vocals fade into the mix and suddenly you're not sure if you're listening to Fire! or Gregorian-chant obsessed drone metal duo Om. After 12 minutes of hypnotic warmup the band dives into a noisy, heavy motorik groove that sounds like Lightning Bolt covering Can's “Future Days.” These five minutes are perhaps the most accessible and exciting part of the record, so much so that as the song ends at the 17-minute mark it still feels too short.
The driving, purposeful roll of the second track is a tough act to follow, but even in isolation the third track is easily the album's weakest. The 13 minute “Can I Hold You For A Minute?” (don't say they don't have a sense of humor) meanders in an arid post-apocalyptic landscape, mixing guitar feedback and inhuman saxophone squeals with endless Hammond organ drones. Italian jazz-metal trio Zu mines this shrill territory too, but they do it twice as fast don’t get boring in the process. The high notes are just shrill enough to keep breaking the trance, and without the trance all you've got is obnoxious repetition.
The lighthearted and brief title track closes the album. Gustafsson and Berthling play a catchy two-note melody over cutesy handclaps, creating a cartoonish, sinister waltz that sounds like it belongs in the background of a Woody Allen heist scene.
You Liked Me Five Minutes Ago is a terrific album, one sure to appeal to a wider audience than much the group members' other work. Free jazz fans will find plenty to enjoy here, but so will metalheads, psych lovers, and electronic listeners. Don't be surprised if you like it a lot longer than five minutes.
By Justin Smith.
September 9, 2009