Bitter Funeral Beer Band – Live in Frankfurt. Photo by Paul Deker
Back in 2018, the Milan based imprint, Black Sweat, released an LP that rapidly rose in the ranks among my favorite albums of that year. Capturing a live, 1982 performance by Bengt Berger’s Bitter Funeral Beer Band, joined by Don Cherry and the renowned Indian Sarod player, Krishnamurti Sridhart, in Frankfurt, Germany, it is a joyous explosion of music on the grand scale. A revelation regarding the diverse, evolutionary states of avant-garde improvised music and jazz during the early 80s – a period not generally regarded as high point in the history of these sounds – it equally doubles as a crucial window into the sustained, optimistic spirits that was carried in the hearts of these artists, their generation, and the ideologies carried by avant-garde music at large.
Live In Frankfurt 82, originally issued as a CD in 2007 by Country & Eastern, is collective music, created by artists from diverse cultural and creative backgrounds, joining multiple traditions and trajectories from across the globe.
The project was formed in 1980 by the Swedish drummer and percussionist, Bengt Berger, in order to play his composition, Bitter Funeral Beer Suite – subsequently issued by ECM the following year – a musical interpretation of funeral traditions in the north-western region of Ghana, blossoming from the drummer’s studies in that country. That said, a project’s beginnings and its roots are not necessarily the same thing. This is music that transcends a single geography, cultural root, or moment in time. The genre defying heights encountered across Live In Frankfurt 82 are better understood as the meeting of numerous voices and experiences – those of the members of the ensemble – with the culmination of Berger’s diverse activities over the 1960s and 70s, from working within the iconic Psych / Prog outfit, Arbete Och Fritid, efforts with folk musicians like Turid, and improvisors like Don Cherry, to his dedicated studies of Indian Classical and West African musics. The result is new musical language, occurring in real time, conversant and filled with hope, offering itself as a metaphorical image of the world as a better place.
A while back, I noticed that Berger had uploaded video documentation of (seemingly) the same concert from which the Black Sweat / Country & Eastern release had been sourced. Divided by song into six parts, I’ve been meaning to draw some attention to them ever since. Given that we’re all currently locked indoors, and could do with a bit of joy and escape, I couldn’t think of better time than the now. Dig in and enjoy. It’s an an absolutely incredible show.
Bitter Funeral Beer Band – Intro, Live in Frankfurt (1982)
Bitter Funeral Beer Band – Darafo, Live in Frankfurt (1982)
Bitter Funeral Beer Band – Chetu, Live in Frankfurt (1982)
Bitter Funeral Beer Band – Bitter Funeral Beer, Live in Frankfurt (1982)
Bitter Funeral Beer Band – Funeral Dance, Live in Frankfurt (1982)
Bitter Funeral Beer Band – Gahu, Live in Frankfurt (1982)