Bengt Berger: The Wide World of Beches Indian Brew

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    Bengt Berger: The Wide World of Beches Indian Brew
    Bengt Berger photographed by Viktor Gardsater

    Don Cherry was, arguably, the first musician to use the term “world-music” to describe the music he was playing in the 1960’s. By that time Mr. Cherry’s music was a far cry from what he had been known for since his series of collaborations with Ornette Coleman since Something Else (Atlantic, 1958), Tomorrow is the Question (Atlantic, 1959), The Shape of Jazz to Come (Atlantic, 1959), The Change of the Century (Atlantic, 1959), This is Our Music (Atlantic, 1960) and the iconic Free Jazz (Blue Note, 1961), and even the recording that he made with John Coltrane entitled The Avant-Garde (Atlantic, 1960).

    The music of Mother Africa beckoned to Don Cherry as did the music of India and Mr. Cherry was making music in both those parts of the world long before anyone else. Meanwhile, in Sweden the visionary musician and drummer, Bengt Berger was also charting a similar course, none of it in the slipstream of Don Cherry.

    Bengt Berger was already well on the way to mastering the complexities of Indian – Hindustani – polyrhythmic cycles and he soon followed his study and performance of music in the North Indian tradition with similar study and performance in the South Indian – Carnatic – tradition. A few years later, in the 1970’s the drummer travelled to Africa. “In the seventies I spent one and a half years in Ghana with my family studying Ewe-drumming in Accra and the Volta region, Brong-Ahafu-drumming in the small village of Ammasu and Lo-Birifor xylophone music with Kakraba Lobi in Accra and the north of Ghana while my wife (celebrated anthropologist, Prudence Ann Woodford-Berger) was doing her fieldwork in social anthropology.”

    It is one of those happiest of coincidences that the paths of Bengt Berger and Don Cherry were to cross. It first happened in the early 1970s (before Mr. Berger travelled to Ghana). As was his wont, Mr. Cherry “popped up, sat in, then disappeared” while Mr. Berger was playing in early Swedish musical settings. But they began to engage in earnest in Uppsala, sharing the bill when the trumpeter played with the Bernt Rosengrens band featuring the great Turkish drummer, Okay Temiz. Then, as Mr. Berger tells it best, “When he learned that I played tabla he immediately asked me to play with his group there and then. Unfortunately there were no tablas to be found in Uppsala with such short notice. We toured, did school concerts and played a lot in his school in Tågarp. Apart from playing lots of Ornette pieces we played a lot with harmonium, flutes and what not with drums, tabla mridangam etc. I taught him tabla quite a lot. I remember that I was very impressed that when we did the first lessons in tabla, it was not a question of some mechanical drill(s), but we were making music, even with lesson 1! That gave ME a lesson!”

    Not too long after and by 1981, the trumpeter (finally) appeared in the seminal large “world-music ensemble” founded by Bengt Berger. That band was Bitter Funeral Beer Band which blazed a meteoric new trail in music after its first release Bitter Funeral Beer (ECM, 1981).

    Beches Indian Brew

    At the turn of the 21st century, Bengt Berger believed that he had found a voice for all of the music he was “hearing” at that time. The group – Beches Brew – reflected “…all his characteristics as composer, musician and band leader: The modal, the ethnic, the melodies, rhythms, the old-fashioned, avant-garde, odd meters, humour and seriousness, chastity and sex, childishness, wisdom and senility, in a word (or two): Country & Eastern.” The group made four very successful records including the celebrated eponymous debut recording. And now, Beches Indian Brew reflects not just a natural spin-off but an infinitely more sophisticated embracing of all of the impulses of Bengt Berger – traversing a musical topography that stretches from America and Europe to Africa, India and including even – at a stretch – the outermost reaches of Indonesia and Bali.

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