Archimedes Badkar were a sizable conglomerate of highly talented Swedish musicians who enjoyed straddling the uncertain ground between European folk traditions, unjazzy improvisation and exotic panethnicity. Although on vinyl few of their compositions extended 10 minutes, the free-flowing form of these pieces indicates that their musical adventures must have been more lengthy affairs.
The band’s debut was recorded in a movable line-up of Per Tjernberg (keyboards), Peter Rönnberg (guitar), Matts Hellqvist (guitar and bass), Christer Bjernelind (bass), Kjell Andersson (drums), Tommy Adolfsson (trumpet), Jörgen Adolfsson (saxophone) and Pysen Eriksson (percussion). Multi-instrumentalist Ingvar Karkoff later replaced Rönnberg, but only appeared on the second LP. By the time Archimedes Badkar recorded its third LP, Bengt Berger and Peter Ragnarsson took responsibility for the increasingly complex polyrhythmic exoticism.
Clearly, Archimedes Badkar fully digested the seeds planted in Sweden by Don Cherry in the early 1970s. Despite the various influences – Balkan, Indian, or West African – the band’s unquestionable musical literacy always allowed them to maintain a sense of balance. It remains a fresh and engaging experience over three decades later.
Förtryckets sista timme
The double LP begins with a riddle. Ottoman-sounding lute will weave its gentle threads throughout this first piece, but we are not sure who the player is. The original LP mentions Anita Livstrand as the officiating tambura player, but some later tracks convince us that she probably handles the droning Indian tambura, not the long-necked Iranian tambura or Yugoslav namesake derived from Turkish saz… Whoever the virtuoso of this oud-sounding lute is does a heck of a job. The drone ration is provided by Jörgen Alofsson on static viola. Pysen Eriksson adds his hand drums with divagations transplanted from raga scales. As discrete accompaniment is being procreated from an intercourse of tambourine and electric bass, the “oud” lays out uplifting, floating, quasi-improvised beadwork. Then the viola drone and rhythmic tiles whittle down, allowing the “oud” to handle the spotlight with C-tunings. The track picks up pace and sidewinds with Christer Bjernelind’s locked-in bass becoming more prominent. This sublime example of damascened ethno-jazz-folk was written by Christér Bothen, one of Don Cherry’s disciples.
Peter Ragnarsson on digressive tabla and Christer Bjernelind on glimmering, breezy mandola anchor the rest of the band. Somewhat laconic and parsimonious, the viola lurks behind, overshadowed by faint, subharmonic vocalizations. Tangential (Indian) tambura plays a very marginal role here – only occasionally pitching in a short phrase. Throughout the piece, the sensorial and subtle timbral organization evokes the Italian band Aktuala which featured a very young Trilok Gurtu around the same time. When violin and mandola finally intone a springtime tune, things get progressively denser, with superimposition of patterns moving in various directions.
This sequel, recorded several months later, is a much faster acoustic guitar theme that evolves into a pleasant theme for multiple lutes and bass.
A sprightly folk song is played on clarinet solo (Kjell Andersson) and mandolin. After the competent intro, an unwieldy recorder and triangle add some enhancing accents.
Sleigh bells invite us to a Nordic ride. Polarized drone emerges from electric guitars, painting static aquarelle circles. The bells and coppery jangle occasionally bulge from inside the drone, some generated by faster handiwork and some by dissolute pick scrapes. At the end, only sleigh bells bid farewell.
”Charmante Yérévan” en lät från Armenien
This traditional Armenian song was arranged by Per Tjernberg and Kjell Westling of Arbete och Fritid. Westling, who had recently recorded with Bengt Berger in Spjärnsvallet, appears here on flutes, disambiguating the melodic lines. The remaining instruments – electric piano, mandola, acoustic piano, drum and bass – conform to the Sweden’s vintage ‘world music’ style of that era and comparisons with Arbete och Fritid cannot be easily avoided. When Per Tjernberg’s clavinet rolls into the cusps of twists and hooks, Samla Mammas Manna’s tongue-in-cheek playfulness comes to mind as well. There are even more references when the duo of Tommy & Jörgen Adolfsson on trumpet and saxophone takes over. This album was recorded barely four months after Tommy Adolfsson participated in the recording of Berits Halsband’s eponymous LP. From all this personal distraction emerges an intoxicating classic of European folk. The candid cascade is finally cut off by the bass and electric piano.
This track prepares us for the abstract sound that Jörgen Adolfsson would soon develop on Iskra’s monumental avant-garde jazz recordings, with bells, chimes, free form acoustic guitar and excursions into piano morphology. Drumsticks hurt themselves against a metal frame, while less bruised participants embark on a timbral research of mandola and mandolin (Jörgen Adolfsson). After a short silence, sparse scraps of isolated notes contend with hollow bamboo clacking and half-mute gongs. Unexpectedly, acoustic guitar quilts a West African-sounding picking line, quickly falling into a groove and gaining support from an army of shakers, rattles and vibraslap. The resulting, obsessive drumming on woodblocks (Bengt Berger) reminds me of a raucous, percussive trip on a Senegalese ferry not long ago… Here, Archimedes Badkar engages with passion in a tribal jam, fading out all too soon.
The first question is – “is it a tuba, or is it a Tibetan trumpet”? Recalling my own visits to Tibetan monasteries, this sounds rather quiet and unobtrusive by comparison. Crash cymbals resonate, with long sustain before we can identify the horn sound to be (most probably) Bb bass trumpet. It is endowed with a round, full sound – way more responsive than the long Tibetan trumpets and more easily likened to a trombone. When Ingvar Karkoff’s electric guitar tinkers gently with reverb, he is ends up being entirely swallowed by the resulting echo. Meanwhile, crotals shimmer fluently, ebbing and flowing in and out of focus. The layers accumulate, impasto style – Pysen Eriksson pitches in on palo de agua and some metallic tubes send out graceful overtones. By now Karkoff’s guitar turns into a Günter Schickert-like echo guitar, albeit sans its rock rhythm.
Surprisingly, this is formed around additive rhythms on acoustic piano, reminiscent of Steve Reich’s easily recognizable style, and complete with invading horn waves. Only mandolin’s barely tangible clipping adds a differing shade. We have sitar and chimes with splashes of liquefied color; and a soprano saxophone sketching a melancholic line. In a bow to systemic syncretism, the violin chips in in a more Paul Zukofsky-like manner (more active, squeezing many more notes per measure). These claddings are carried on loops of various lengths and begin to diverge just when a straight-ahead rock drum intervenes. Once, twice. Then nothing. Thrice. Is this going to be another rock version of classical American minimalism? L’infonie’s “Vol.33” (1970) comes to mind – the very first of many rock adaptations of Terry Riley’s most famous composition. But Archimedes Badkar is not launching into rewriting the rules of the genre. The band will incorporate a salient trumpet, a feeble piano and the Indian tambura forever condemned to its background role.
This is a merry “Yugoslav” dance scored for saxophone, tambourine and solo clarinet. With some additional ingredients from reticent acoustic piano and bass, the band spins endlessly – there so much buoyancy with just a couple measures! We would have to wait for Matt Darriau’s Paradox Trio to get a real mouthful of these Balkan hooks.
Indisk folkmelodi och ett tema av Ingvar
Indian tambura drone translates for us the Swedish title (Indian folk melody). Very un-Indian recorders replace subcontinental shawms and clavinet substitutes for… well only Ingvar Karkoff would know for what. The rhythmic framework is maintained by Moroccan bandir and tambourine. In a fluid, conversational development, Per Tjernberg syncopates on his acoustic piano within the limits of the upbeat theme. Archimedes Badkar perfected a thematic evolution in which melodious prayers are born from exotic percussive foam, something that this piece does very well.
Tvä hundra stolta är
The closing track is a very distinct affair, opening with non-realist cello bowing. All the other contributions will remain contingent on this – electronic organ overtones, violin squeals and mourning. It is a highly intense piece of improvisation zooming on a rather unusual instrumental combination. The violin and cello will seek some classical cues, but to no avail; the exploration will remain free form. Kjell Anderson scrapes and grates his drums but dares not to beat them. The plaintive violin brings back the ghost of Dave Cross.
Archimedes Badkar climaxed around the time of “II”, but their first LP is equally recommended.
ARCHIMEDES BADKAR: “Badrock för barn i alla åldrar” (1974)
ARCHIMEDES BADKAR: “II” 2LP (1974-76)
ARCHIMEDES BADKAR: “Tre” (1977)
ARCHIMEDES BADKAR: “Bado kidogo” (1979)
For those who enjoy the ethno-jazz side of Archimedes Badkar, several early efforts by Bengt Berger are also worth tracking down:
RENA RAMA: “Rena Rama” (1973)
SPJÄRNSVALLET: “Spjärnsvallet” (1975)
Bengt BERGER: “Bitter Funeral Beer” (1981)
BITTER FUNERAL BEER BAND: “Live in Nürnberg“ (1984)
Jörgen Adolfsson’s Iskra developed a very different, free form style that at first approach may seem sterile. These records do, however, reward listeners’ commitment. You do not have to be the lover of European free jazz to enjoy them.
ISKRA: “Jazz i Sverige 1975“ 2LP (1975)
ISKRA: “Allemansrätt“ (1976-77)
ISKRA: “Besvärjelser“ (1979)
As mentioned before, Tommy Adolfsson starred on Berits Halsband’s eponymous LP. The band’s music falls more into avant-fusion category. It is highly rewarding and has aged very well.
BERITS HALSBAND: “Berits Halsband” (1975)
Archimedes Badkar’s extended line-up overlaps partly with the ever eclectic Arbete och Fritid and with Don Cherry’s Swedish formations. Both will qualify for separate treatment.