Although his late friend, the legendary trumpeter Don Cherry used the title Complete Communion for an album in 1966, Bengt Berger has not used any of those words to describe music he has made. But the music he has been making over time has certainly become subsumed by the word “communion”. This is not to suggest that Mr Berger’s music (or Mr. Cherry’s, for that matter) is reflective of the meaning contained in the Septuagint. But the drummer’s music does embody the entomology of the Greek word, κοινωνία (koinonia) in at least two connotations: “a spiritual relationship with divinity” and “comradely fellowship between friends, a community or society”.
“Don’t just practice your art, but force your way into its secrets,
for it and knowledge
can raise men to the Divine…”
Ludwig van Beethoven
Clearly Mr Berger seems to have arrived at the gates of this realm by a much older stairway – one that, while it began in Stockholm, Sweden, found its way to Africa and while immersing himself, between heaven and earth, in India. On a more mundane level, Mr Berger acquired an old LP during his student days in Stockholm from another student quite by chance. Upon spinning it on his record player he immediately became mesmerised by what he recalls as being a recording of Hindustani classical music by the sitarist Ravi Shankar and tabla player Chatur Lal. That was in 1963. What followed is a remarkable story that is still unfolding…
The artist immersed in music is said to be closest to the secrets of the Divine; to the perfect hum. The Sufi sage Hazrat Inayat Khan once asked, “Why is music called the divine art, while all other arts are not so called?” And he went on to explain “We may certainly see God in all arts and in all sciences, but in music alone we see God free from all forms and thoughts. In every other art there is idolatry. Every thought, every word has its form. Sound alone is free from form. Every word of poetry forms a picture in our mind. Sound alone does not make any object appear before us.”
And he may well be correct in positing so. Why else did our ancestors use the formless I am form the earliest, Mosaic times, if not for the fact that it discouraged the imagination of a form while at the same time suggesting someone who was eternal? The hum is the quintessential expression of worship; the perfect, “forever” note that is born where body and spirit co-exist – that is, in the soul – and who better to utter it that he or she who is closest to it: the musician. Not every musician realises this in his or her quest to make music, but for Mr Berger every note comes from the realization that it must sound as if his life depends on it. And it seems to come so easily to him…