Swedish veteran musician-composer (and visual artist) Christer Bothén is often described as a collaborator of Don Cherry, but Bothén was the one who taught Cherry to play the Malian string instrument, donso n’goni, after he studied in Africa Malian hunter’s music and later Gnawa music in the seventies. Bothén led the group Bolon Bata, later incarnated into Bolon X, which incorporated folk and ethnic traditions into jazz, and in recent years collaborated with Mats Gustafsson including in the last versions of the Fire! Orchestra and Nu Ensemble.
«Ambrosia» is a 3-discs box-set devoted to Bothén’s highly personal language on the bass clarinet and contrabass clarinet. Bothén says that these mysterious «empty pipes have possibilities enough to cover several lives». Two discs collect his solo improvisations-sonic explorations on these beloved instruments, recorded in different acoustic spaces, from a rainy soundscape in Spain («Nightrain») to a peculiarly resonating church in Sweden.
Bothén investigates the resonating, timbral spectrum of these instruments, exploring delicate and almost silent, meditative drone («Seismology»), ethereal and intimate journey into the sonorities of the clarinet, acoustic voicings («Ambrosia»), careful research of extended breathing techniques («Nothing») and dense, restless and urgent improvisations («It»). Bothén stresses the elusive, almost human sounds of these instruments, often letting the fragmented, layered sounds tremble in air, reverberate and echo in space, and allowing himself to disappear in the sounds and silences. Bothén describes these arresting and insightful improvisations-turned-into-loose-compositions as «rebellious action» where musical thinking, planning and intuition, substance and shadow are inseparable.
The 36-minutes «Zon» is the only composition for an ensemble, featuring four bass clarinet and contrabass clarinet player – Bothén, fellow-Swedish Per Texas Johansson and Boa Pettersson and Swiss Hans Koch, vocalist Sofia Jernberg, two pianists – Kristine Scholz and Tisha Mukarji (who plays inside the piano) and double bass player Vilhelm Bromander. «Zon» was inspired by Russian film director Andrei Tarkovskij’s masterpiece «Stalker» (1979) and its premiere took place at the same time as the enormous construction was placed over the leaking sarcophagus of reactor 4 at Chernobyl «like the bottom of a capsized dream, a capsized Noah’s Ark», not far from where Tarkovski filmed «Stalker», The poetic lyrics are borrowed from the English subtexts of the film cryptic script, a Swedish translation poem book of Belarusian journalist Svetlana Aleksijevitjs, «A Prayer for Chernobyl», and a Swedish translation of a poem by German W.G. Sebald.
This deeply emotional and dramatic composition succeeds to manifest the subtle, highly resonating, deep-tones and overtones of the bass clarinets and contrabass clarinets as the most sensitive instruments to capture the coming apocalyptic vibrations. You may think of the role of these clarinets, with a sound so close to the human voice as the dreamy, whispering voice of Jernberg demonstrates again and again, as a kind of seismological Greek choir warning us about the fallacies of humankind. A most beautiful and moving composition.
Christer Bothén (bcl, contrabcl), Per Texas Johansson (bcl, contrabcl), Hans Koch (bcl, contrabcl), Boa Pettersson (bcl, contrabcl), Sofia Jernberg (v), Kristine Scholz (p), Tisha Mukarji (inside p), Vilhelm Bromander (b)