This large ensemble might be seen as a Swedish equivalent of the German group Embryo, as both were pioneers in the fusion of jazz-rock and ethnic music from all over the world. The music of Archimedes Badkar was lively and playful, often inspired by African music from both North and South of the Sahara desert. All four albums are in a similar vein, but most people regard their double second album as their best effort. Half of it was pre-planned, the rest based on improvisations done in the studio at night! Most tracks are very long and indicative of hippies on an Eastern trip. Bado Kidogo (1979) was a collaboration with the group Afro 70 from Tanzania. Bengt Berger and Kjell Westling had previously played with Arbete Och Fritid.
Yet another weird and wonderful Swedish progressive band, Archimedes Badkar is perhaps closer to instrumental jazz-rock than their contemporaries and predecessors Samla Mammas Manna, Älgarnas Trädgård, Arbete och Fritid, Flåsket Brinner, et. al. Most of the music on Badrock … is tightly arranged and very compositional. In fact, it starts off sounding like Samla Mammas Manna interpreting material from Frank Zappa's Burnt Weeny Sandwich - the first three tracks demonstrate that the band can play jazzy instrumental music with a healthy dose of whimsy, lots of odd time signatures and sudden changes in direction. The longest track on Side 1, "Wago Gozeze" is quite different. This is a trancelike, minimalistic piece with bubbling guitars, hand percussion and two soprano saxophones duetting over top. Unfortunately, the hand percussion is replaced by rather clumsy kit drumming about half-way through. Still, it's pretty successful, and an admirable illustration of the sort of broad eclecticism one can expect when delving into the Swedish psych / prog / fusion scene. Side 2 opens with a piece for solo mandola, followed by more Samla Mammas Zappa (the latter influence especially pungent via the use of wahwah guitar and marimba), and a piece that sounds a bit like less-frenetic Mahavishnu with trumpet and sax solos. There's also a cover version of the main theme from John Coltrane's "A Love Supreme" and some first-rate funky jazz-rock with all sorts of weird twists and turns. Overall, Badrock … is an incredibly rewarding listen, and a stunning debut recording. The LP comes with a nice illustrated booklet, too. The personnel and instrumentation is as follows: Tommy Adolfsson (trumpet), Jörgen Adolfsson (saxes, acc. Guitar, mandolin, mandola), Per Tjernberg (piano, el. Piano, organ, vibes, drums), Peter Rônnberg (guitars), Christer Bjernelind (sitar, guitar, slide guitar, bass, piano), Mats Hellqvist (guitar, bass), Kjell Andersson (drums, percussion, bamboo flute), Pysen Eriksson (congas and percussion). Writing credits are spread fairly evenly throughout the band, with Tjernberg being responsible for the Zappa-ish stuff (mostly), and the jazzier bits credited to Bjernelind and the Adolfssons.
Archimedes' second LP, titled II, is a complete change of pace. Of course, the change in musical direction is a symptom of changes in personnel. The band slimmed down to a sextet of Tjernberg, Bjernelind, Pysen Erkisson, the Adolfssons, and new member Ingvar Karkoff (piano, cello, acoustic guitar). Drummer Kjell Andersson is listed as a "guest", along with percussionists Bengt Berger and Peter Ragnarsson, tambura player Anita Livstrand (from the folk/ethnic band Vargavinter), and multi-instrumentalist Kjell Westling (from the jazz/ethnic band Spjarnsvallet). The band's growing fascination with multi-ethnic music is reflected in the cover art of this 2 LP set: a charcoal drawing of African and Asian musicians and dancers backed by what looks like a European folk ensemble. The music on II takes up two distinctly different strands: some merely hinted at on Badrock …, others were already being developed (for example, on the track "Wago Gozeze"). The intricate compositions and sometimes funky jazz-rock feel predominant on the debut LP is all but gone. Instead, thematic material is adapted from, or directly inspired by, Middle Eastern, East Indian, Scandinavian, and African multi-ethnic folk musics. These developments take up most of the 2-LP set. On "Förtryckets Sista Timme", "Efter Regnet", "Vattenfall", and "Indisk Folkmelodi", acoustic and ethnic instruments (tablas, bendir, mandola, bamboo flutes, etc.) are quite prominent, and the music, while still quite intricate, tends toward the trance-like and minimalistic ("Afreaka II"), rather than exhibiting a series of peaks and valleys. It's really lovely stuff - comparable in a way to the work of Between, Popol Vuh, and some of the other meditative / progressive German bands of the 1970s, but with a distinct flavor all its own. There are also several long, minimalistic pieces on II ("Jorden", "Radio Tibet", "Två Världar") that utilize drones (tamboura, etc.), endlessly repeated figures, and both electronic and acoustic instruments in a way that would make Steve Reich proud. Rather than seeming cold and clinical (like most minimalism from the Western Classical tradition), there's a warmth and folksiness to these pieces that really seems to tap into the spirit of those (e.g., Terry Riley, LaMonte Young, etc.) who pioneered this sort of music in the first place. One track on II , "Två Hundra Stolta År" also gets way out there into the realm of improvised avant garde noise.
Further changes in both personnel and musical direction are evident on Tre. Karkoff has departed, and two of the guest musicians from II, percussionist Bengt Berger and multi-instrumentalist Peter Ragnarsson have become full-time members of the ensemble. Saxophonist / multi-instrumentalist Christer Bothen, a member of the avant-garde jazz quartet "Spjarnsvallet" who would go on to form his own great band (Bolon Bata) also joined. Jazz has re-entered the band's realm of musical interests, only this time it seems to function more as an outgrowth of the band's fascination with various types of ethnic music. It's no coincidence: Bothen and Berger worked extensively with American expatriot trumpeter and multi-instrumentalist Don Cherry, who later joined Berger's "Bitter Funeral Beer" band. Though I wholeheartedly approve of the band's emphasis on jazz, with the exception of new members Berger and Bothen, they don't quite have the chops to pull it off in a thoroughly convincing manner. This is most evident on the opening track, "Badidoom", where shaky, derivative solos by Jorgen and Tommy Adolsson are followed by Bothen's beautiful, yet authoritative, bass clarinet solo. The ethnic / trance / drone aspects of the band's oeuvre is spectacularly well-developed, however, and the strength of these pieces alone make Tre easily recommendable to fans of Scandinavian strangeness.
The fourth, and final, Archimedes Badkar LP is a joint effort with 3 Tanzanian musicians from the group Afro 70: guitarist / vocalist Patrick Pama Balisidya, and percussionist / vocalists Dick Unga and Sophie Nzuki-Balisidya. Archimedes Badkar, at this stage, was comprised of the Adolfsson brothers (Tommy and Jorgen on trumpet and reeds, respectively), Per Tjernberg (percission), Krister Bjernelind (bass), drummer Bengt Berger, multi-reedist / pianist Christer Bothen, and pianist Brynn Settles. The collaboration with Afro 70 (5 of the LPs 6 tracks) is a mild disappointment, as AB takes on the role of ‘backing band’ to the Tanzanian musicians. Those looking for the eclectic mix of experimental music, world music, drones, noise, and jazz from the band’s first 3 LPs might want to hold off on this one. However, if you enjoy enthusiastic, well-crafted (but not commercially-oriented) African pop music with jazzy saxophone and trumpet solos, you may well enjoy Bado Kidogo (which means "not yet" in Swahili). Balisidya is a fine vocalist, and a good songwriter, though his music is pretty straight-ahead. It’s readily apparent that Badkar’s playing is sharper than ever. Bjernelind is particularly impressive! He plays those snaky, tricky, heavily syncopated bass lines with funky grace and aplomb. The horns are tight and their soloing is inspired. The percussion team of Berger and Tjernberg plus the Afro 70 musicians is truly a marvel to behold. If you dig Osibisa, Dudu Pukwana’s Spear, Jabula, etc., you will love this!
Africa 70 doesn’t appear on the LP’s longest track, drummer Bengt Berger’s adaptation of Ghanian Funeral Music, titled "Darafo / Darkpen". Here, Badkar are joined by bassist / guitarist Sigge Krantz and an uncredited organist. This track is a deep multi-cultural exploration that successfully blends traditional African ceremonial music with elements of jazz and psychedelic rock and recalls the best moments of Tre. A shame the whole LP wasn’t like this! However, Berger did go on to record at least two stylistically similar LPs in the early 1980s (one titled Bitter Funeral Beer was on ECM and is likely still in-print) accompanied by the likes of Don Cherry, plus a few former Archimedes Badkar members. Christer Bothen (with Berger, Krantz, and the Adolfssons) also formed a similar Afro-jazz influenced group called Bolon Bata following the demise of Archimedes Badkar.
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