The long-running Swedish ensemble was founded in 1968 by saxophone player Roland Keijser and trumpeter Torsten Eckerman. During the early years, the leaders searched the perfect modus operandi between their emotional attachment to Nordic melodiousness and their talent for folk-jazz thematic developments. The departures of key personnel after the first two records pushed the band even further into straddling these strongly divergent musical pathways. The results were, most of time, satisfactory, especially in live format. During concerts, the band often indulged in longer forms, ingeniously stringing familiar themes together and interspersing them with tentative improvisational departures. At the same time, the utilization of traditional folk motifs expanded into other cultures – the Balkans, the Baltics and Asia Minor.
The radical transformation came after the founders’ departure in 1975. A+F were then joined by two veterans anointed with Sweden’s most celebrated “psychedelic” pedigree – Torbjörn Abelli and Thomas Mera Gartz. Both had previously been involved in a continuously evolving jamming vehicle known under a variety of monikers: Pärson Sound, International Harvester, Harvester and, last but not least, Träd Gräs och Stenar. Their arrival critically affected Arbete och Fritid’s sound and pushed the band towards a bolder form of rock jam.
Although the two records created by this line-up are among Sweden’s most accomplished experimental rock statements from the era, they do show signs of stylistic strain. The psych-jam format proved largely incompatible with the lingering affection for Scandinavian folk.
Roland Keijser’s and Kjell Westling’s subsequent ‘return’ resulted in the recording of a deeply sentimental, charming acoustic document that remained in stark contrast to the wild A+F of the late 1970s.
Multi-instrumentalist Ove Karlsson was the only member of A+F who played with the band throughout its entire existence. Only his direct testimony could reveal the compromises behind the band’s double life.
From deep silence, Ove Karlsson’s furtive cello adsorbs airy, sustained notes on the C-string. Thomas Gartz’s indifferent mallets stumble on the large tom-tom. One by one, spacey guitars lurk from their dens, howling like a pack of orphaned wolves. True to this pictorial metaphor, Tord Bengtsson’s and Ove Karlsson’s strings recede in tremolos, but advance in glissandos. Meanwhile, the mallets progression remains frail and ineffectual, affecting the overall atmosphere of this lazy jam. Whenever the energy does swell up, it dies down almost instantly, taking the joule content to negligible levels. Finally, the multiple guitar barking becomes more intrusive, densifying the texture with echo, fuzz and wah-wah. Although the drummer maintains the simplistic meter, the tempo picks up, and the shadow of Träd Gräs och Stenar’s is upon us. Supported by bass and guitar tremolos, Bengtsson construes an irradiant, magnetic ascension. The pace stays languorously laid-back, à la Grateful Dead, and dangerously epigonic by 1976. The utopistic pathos of guitar-led anthem is, however, dense enough to escape the pretentiousness of the 1970s’ rock. When the volume increases a flute saves the band from too conventional a climax (Who is this? The mysterious Jan Zetterquist credited on the cover? We know that neither Keijser nor Westling appear in this session). Transparent flute runs subjugate mallet-drum rolls and a guitar drone. The ensemble slowly climbs down the dynamic slope, leaving the cumulonimbus of feedback behind them. The final fade-out is as slow as the fade-in was. It is down to Ove Karlsson on the cello again…
This time, an Indian-sounding flute intones a morning tune to reckless banjo strumming and hollow sounds on clay pots. When someone (Ove Karlsson? Ulf Lauthers?) begins a puja-styled incantation, the memory of Don Cherry returns to Stockholm’s NMW Studios. Having dodged familiar tuning, shimmering strings join the thumb piano to sublimate the oddly transgressive harmonics. As the kalimba prances around, the leader whistles and then commences an emotional recitation in Swedish. In fact, the droning voices evoke more likely a carefree bonfire sing-along than a concentrated Tibetan throat singing or Mongolian khoomei. A percussive vocabulary apportions additional splashes of color.
Dansa i ring
Bells and Tord Bengtsson’s fiddle jolt around in an upbeat Nordic dance. Years later, the gammaldans stomping does force armchair listener’s feet off the ground.
Jag vet inte så noga
Chunky organ and a rather pedestrian hi-hat do not augur well for something that sounds like a 1970s’ TV commercial. It soon turns out to be a very terrestrial pop song for two, untrained tenors. If it’s a parody, then it does not quite work, despite their incessant repetition: “Not so exactly”. Today, Karlsson’s ballroom-styled organ trivia would qualify for a retro jewel and land on the special shelf along Aavikko. And if karaoke had existed back in 1976, then “Jag vet inte så noga” would have ruled in deep north’s KTV parlors. In effect, it is achieves neither.
Jag bär min smärta
As much as we would wish the pristine guitar and piano hymn intro to guide us into a Popol Vuh pilgrimage, the vocal soon ruins it, turning the song into a Dylan-type grumble. Gartz’s violin joins the crooner’s ode to “pain”. It lingers rather conventionally, with a dose of harmonica making it even more rural.
Knoga och knega (Framtid)
For the first time on this record, a heavy vibrato makes an appearance. Jews harp? Hard-boiled guitar? A tone generator’s husky hum? Here again, Gartz’s skins are subjected to soft, felted treatment. A chanted phrase is repeated ad nauseam to some low-pitched rumble and non-resonant bells. The result is rather spooky as the low-end, speculative ultrasound seems to be generated by something more ominous than Torbjörn Abelli’s bass. The chant is unhurried, though audibly tired by the oppressive jungle filled with animal fracas.
Cheap organ looms in the back of some country barn party. A master of ceremonies half-sings to the inconsequential chords from Karlsson’s weary keyboard. Someway between a Scandinavian Fred Lane and an antediluvian version of Bad Statistics, he preaches something about the depravity of sex and drugs. The logorrheic, garrulous performance sounds like an undesirable, drunken lecture. But it does seem to constitute one of Ulf Lauthers’s key elements in the overall concept of the record – a meta-commentary on societal changes in the confusing decade of 1970s.
Jag är inte som andra (kaos eller ordning)
Cosmic guitars swirl in helical fashion with Abelli’s pulsating bass, captured occasionally by clutches from petulant cowbells. Karlsson obsesses about one specific key on his organ, but when one of the guitars begins to howl again in the distance, an eerie half-whisper startles us right in front of us. Only the organ survives the shock.
Jag vägrar va’ me’
Another of those bonfire songs with just acoustic guitar strumming and a tambourine. It is folksy. It is elementary. It is secular. It is primitive. The band members clearly cannot sing, but they do insist. Despite some attempts to orchestrate the piece (a deeply underadjusted violin) the song was clearly penned with guitar in the hand. Instead of a refrain, the song is stuffed with infantile echolalia.
Lev hårt – dö ung!
A working class, grungey festival number delivered with a hoarse, angry, anti-musical voice and all of the guitars in a proto-punk rhythmic role. The effect is not unlike Mighty Baby or Pink Fairies further West.
Avdelnig – indelning (giv akt!)
In one of the more intriguing moments on the record, a multi-xylophone and ‘clockwork cuckoo’ galore pollutes vulnerable horror movie buildups. Jan Zetterquist must have had a hand in this intense, bulimic, invariant assault on the top register. It is up to the listener to establish any metric sense in this. Half-way through, some sloganeering kicks in and the piece distills into a haughty lecture against social control. It is refined into an engaged Radiospiel and closes with quasi-military commands.
Nu måste jag välja!
Mellow 1960s pop guitar arpeggios spangle the spectrum almost like the Ventures. Only shadowy glissandos remind us that this was taped 15 years later, in a completely different era. Several singers deliver the text in their untrained unison: “I choose”… But rather than evoking a protest, it all sounds rather polite and non-confrontational.
Spel i soluppgången
Second significant jam on the record. This time, Gartz employs his cymbals extensively, while guitars’ wah-wah quacks from a distance. It seems that some of the guitars are treated with the bow (or it could be Karlsson’s electrically processed cello). With just enough echo applied to the bowed and sawed guitar/cello, the rhythm section does a great job by keeping it focused and on-target. Bengtsson’s bass is perfectly aligned with Gartz and disciplined enough to allow for the two guitarists to enjoy their freedom. The cello repetition gets an almost systemic regularity – not unlike Arthur Russell’s recordings some 6 years later. Slowly, almost imperceptibly, the jam surges in volume. The cymbals crash, and the violin goes fiddly, almost bluegrassy. From this inflection point, the whole band accelerates to the point where one would not expect any psych jam to go – at devilish, bluegrass speed. Either Gartz or Bengtsson steals the show on Charlie Daniels. A highly original and successful marriage of unlikely inputs.
On this slow-paced, violin-based ballad, the fiddle allocates some voluble rudiments. This is perfectly justified by the title (Love Song). But in the higher register the repetitions make its brief cycles almost Karnatic.
An affable Jerry Garcia-like guitar lead spins and traipses, letting the other guitarist operate the isometric, almost metronomic rhythm. The lead guitar hikes up and solos freely without showing off. During this exquisite passage, Arbete och Fritid sound like a compressed slurry from Heldon, Spacecraft, Verto or Peter Green’s first solo – an organized set of guitar solos perfectly enveloped within rhythmic multidividers. There are no superfluous fireworks, no swagger, just an exhibit of classy guitar vorticism. The pace remains tight and disciplined throughout. If this is truly music of Gotland, then why did we not hear more?
Älskade barn (tiller alla)
Double violin drone and regular zither arpeggios tee it off for a verbal litany. One violin soars into the photosphere. The other stays earthbound, buried in vascular drone.
Brudmarsch från Vågå i Norge
This form of a plaintive, but auspicious mazurka would later fill most of LP “Sen dansar vi ut”. It could be the reason why the heroic theme sounds familiar its anecdotal delinquency. Violins, drums and guitars dredge a languid, rustic motif as if overheard at a large, provincial get-together. It would fit the forged innocence of pre-1968 Czech movie. And that is not the only cinematic reminiscence…
When a soliloquy in Swedish gets wrapped in bird chirping, I can’t help thinking about the contemplative visions of Isak Borg in Bergman’s 1957 classic “Wild Strawberries“… Plagued by the prominence of unrelated, black-and-white images, I barely notice the drifting infusion of psych jam. Against the reverberating wails, birds warble, violins oxidize and drums flagellate with cold regularity. The band reconfigures these sources into loosely hanging tassels of accidental counterpoints. At the repugnantly caustic edge of our perceptual apparatus, a wild bird whistles in full-blown contrast with the “rock” side of the band, latent inside a deep, narrowing tunnel. There is no guitar fronting, just the obsessive violin systemism and haunted wailing from deep in the valley. When the smelting guitars finally emerge, the jam is over and we are freed into an immobility of an aviary saturated with twitter, warble and tweet. Great listen for long northern winters.
Stora David Bagare
This is an old traditional rondo, arranged by the band for acoustic guitar, violin and multiple voices. After the heady jamming apex, this acts as a seductive, joyful refrain. Scurrilous yodeling, offbeat chorus, polyphonic multi-voices, and plain ludic shouting follow incoherently.
Nu är det dax
The record closes with this drunken waltz led by the violins of Tord Bengtsson and Thomas Mera Gartz.
Positions 7 and 9 are most highly recommended, but 4 and 5 include many excellent moments as well.
1. ARBETE OCH FRITID: “Arbete och fritid” (1970)
2. ARBETE OCH FRITID: “Andra LP” (1971)
3. ARBETE OCH FRITID & Rolf LUNDQVIST: “Slottsbergets hambo & andra valser“ (1972)
4. ARBETE OCH FRITID / KUNSTBANDET “Club Jazz 6” (1972)
5. ARBETE OCH FRITID: “Arbete och fritid” (1973)
6. ARBETE OCH FRITID: “Ur spår” (1974)
7. ARBETE OCH FRITID: “Se upp! för livet” 2LP (1976)
8. ARBETE OCH FRITID: “Sen dansar vi ut” 2LP (1977)
9. ARBETE OCH FRITID: “Hallandan” (1978-79)
The band also made a record with Margareta Söderberg, which I have never heard:
Margareta SÖDERBERG & ARBETE OCH FRITID: “Käringstand” (1976)
Shortly after A+F’s closing chapter, Ove Karlsson’s next band recorded a legendary LP – a highly successful relay between the musical sensibilities of the two – very different – decades:
NYA LJUDBOLAGET: “Nya Ljudbolaget“ (1980)