Based on my one previous experience with Gord Grdina, a very sedate set at Bukowski’s in Vancouver, I wasn’t expecting too much excitement from this one, but considering the company the dude keeps – François Houle, TOmmy Babin, Mats Gustafsson, etc – I should have know better than to prematurely pigeonhole the guy as a mild-mannered, middle of the road jazzbo. This album is a rager. What can really be said? Music like this just needs to be listened to, preferably live. A stellar lineup of Vancouver’s finest players and Swedish hotshot guesting on saxophone make this one hell of a free improv freakout. Gustaffson opens thing up with a wailing horn that sets the pace for things to come. Grdina pops into the mix a little later on with some freaky frenetic styling on the electric guitar and has the “chops” to prove why it’s his name adorning this disc. The album was recorded live at the Vancouver Jazz Festival and you can almost hear it in the energy contained herein. This thing is straight fire, if the opener didn’t assure you of that, the next track “Burning Bright” most definitely will as Grdina, Gustaffson, and Kenton Lowen just blast simultaneously at full velocity in a gorgeous cacophony before cooling things out to give Tommy Babin a little space to be heard above the din of his brethren.
If the album were a one trick pony, I don’t think you’d find free jazz fans complaining, since it’s such a very good trick, but it sure is nice when things take a turn towards quiet introspection on the Iraqi traditional number “En Shakoota” which features Grdina opening up solo on the oud, with the group joining in later. Nice to hear the two sounds come together, sweet transition with some vocals to liven things up, and the full band sound works really well.
Things get back to the previous fast-paced insanity on the title track “Barrel Fire”. This has more of a riff-driven rock sound that helps me understand why this record came up as “Indie Rock” rather than “Jazz” or “Free Improv” when I threw the CD into iTunes. This one got my foot going a mile a minute and my head banging like an old school 80's hair-band banger in a strip mall parking lot with the tunes turned up loud. Blistering!
A bombastic album. Jesus, all these goddamned Drip Audio discs that makes me wish I’d never left Vancouver. Well, what with the live jazz fest ambiance and audience hooting and hollering, this one almost feels like being there. Fire music fans, keep an eye out for this one.