Wednesday, September 27, 2017

ARBETE & FRITID – Arbete & Fritid (Sonet, 1970)

International relevance: ***

Ranked #2 on the blog's Top 25 list
Not only does Arbete & Fritid's debut album stand as one of the cornerstones of progg, it's also one of the best albums ever to come out in Sweden. It's a prime example of how to vigorously merge modal jazz, European folk music, and avantgarde with a light touch of the kind of psychedelia that was still fresh in Sweden at the time of the album's release in 1970. ”Arbete & Fritid” (not to be confused with their 1973 album of the same title) broke new ground with such intuition and craftmanship that it remains unrivalled to this very day.

Arbete & Fritid rose out of The Roland Keijser Quartet, a powerhouse jazz combo that emerged on the fertile Swedish jazz scene of the 60's. Sax player Keijser was one of the original core members of Arbete & Fritid, but then again – they had only core members. Each of them offered crucial musical input being imaginative instrumentalists of the highest order, thus becoming mainstays of the Swedish folk and jazz scene long after progg declined as the dominant cultural movement; the only exception being trumpeter Torsten Eckerman (1945-2013) who became a teacher after leaving Arbete & Fritid in 1976 and participating in the tour de force venture Tältprojektet in 1977. The versatile Ove Karlsson has always added a unique flavour to the music he's been part of, especially as a cellist, and he has appeared on plenty of recordings over the years. The equally multi-talented Kjell Westling (1942-2010) appeared in various contexts where his flair for folk and folk inspired music came to great use. Drummer par excellence Bengt ”Beche” Berger has been involved in numerous bands and projects through the decades, and remains a natural force on the Swedish music scene, currently being a part of multifaceted outfit Beches Brew. Roland Keijser too is an ever so remarkable jazz musician, still keen to join in with both up and coming youngsters of the neo-progressive genre and noted jazz players. In 2017, he was awarded the prestigious Lars Gullin Prize.

But when all of them played together, like in the early 70's, they achieved something out of the ordinary, something utterly amazing, timeless and indestructible. Nothing can weaken the light pouring out of ”Esso Motor Hotel” or the eponymously titled ”Arbete och fritid”, nothing can diminish the impact of the brooding ”Damen i svart” or the beauty of ”Vind” which ends the album in a state of elevated melancholia. The overall feeling is one of astonishing otherness, further accentuated by Örjan Hamrins eye-catching cover art.

A lot of people seem to prefer ”Arbete och Fritids andra LP” (whose title translates into the explanatory ”Arbete och Fritid's Second LP”) and that too is a majestic effort. Truth is that Arbete & Fritid never made a bad album. Even when slowly evolving into a different band through a number of personnel changes from the mid 70's until eventually calling it quits with ”Håll andan” in 1979, they consistently operated on a remarkable quality level. But in the early days, in the very beginning, with their debut album, they were far above everything and far ahead of everybody else, even themselves. ”Arbete & Fritid” is a true classic, rich with a vitality that will make it outlive us all.

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