Click here to [close]

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Bengt Berger - Beches Brew (Country & Eastern, 2009) ** or ****

Swedish drummer Bengt Berger made one masterpiece, "Bitter Funeral Beer", an astonishing world jazz album beyond category, that is as hypnotizing as it is guaranteed to move you to tears as well. Yet the rest of his musical output is of a quite doubtful level and unequal quality, often quite traditional, boppish, or plain silly.

On Beches Brew, he combines it all, great compositions, with great influences from Indian traditional music, alternated with more or less interesting Scandinavian folk, silly beer brawl songs and boppish pieces. To make matters worse, some of the sounds, and especially the guitar, but also the keyboard at times, appear to have skipped a few decades, as if there had been no evolution with the instrument since the early seventies.

The band consists of Thomas Gustafsson on soprano and tenor saxophones, Jonas Knutsson on soprano,  alto and baritone saxophones, Lindha Kallerdahl on voice, Max Schultz on guitar, banjo, bass and voice, Mats Öberg on keyboard, harmonica and voice, Bengt Berger on drums and percussion.

Some of the music is excellent. Some is awful. Even in the excellent pieces, you find some ugly sounds, or just lack of quality : Linda Kallerdahl has a great voice, but she doesn't master the Indian voice inflections, unfortunately, which leads to some painful moments. I wish a great producer like Manfred Eicher could have been involved in this. The material is here, the output unfortunately not. There is no unity, there is no coherence, it's a mixed bag. Studio pieces alternate with live pieces, sometimes even of the same compositions. In short, it's a mess, but one full of jewels.

So, here is my advice : just download the tracks 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 16, 17 and 18 (a live version of 7). That's more than half the album. Forget about the rest. What remains is 45 minutes of great compositions, with splendid themes, African and Asian influences, both rhythmically and melodically, some reminiscent of "Bitter Funeral Beer", with great singing by Kallerdahl in Swedish, especially on the long "Dagar, Djur", some classical concepts, and excellent soloing by the band, and cleverly arranged on top. Organised in such a way, the music gets some unity and coherence.

World jazz fans shouldn't miss those tracks. 

PS - the reference to Miles Davis' Bitches Brew in the title is only a play with words : Berger's nickname is Beche, yet there is no musical ressemblance whatsoever.

Listen and download from Country & Eastern or from eMusic.

© stef