Norwegian keyboard ace and experimental Jazz-wizard Bugge Wesseltoft visited Trondheim, Norway, on the 9th of September 2016. He is celebrating the 20 years’ anniversary for the formation of his project ‘New Conception of Jazz.’ The group has not been active for a few years and Wesseltoft is now playing with a whole new line-up. Last time he visited Trondheim with New Conception of Jazz was back in 1998 when the band had been running for two years. He asked before the show started if anyone in the room were present in ’98, and a few voices around the room made their presence known! Wesseltoft joked that his current band was not there in ’98 — most of whom are presumably in their twenties.
Personally I used to know his name from various collaborations and award shows in Norway. If my memory holds I believe he played with Eivind Aarset and Audun Kleive in the groovy experimental Jazz-project “Music for Science and Fiction”. I saw them live in the mid-90s, and it’s a shame I can’t find any videos or useful information about them online. Then, a decade later, while I was studying Music Technology in Singapore one of my lecturers came back from a trip to Norway. He lent me a record named ‘FiLM iNG.’ I listened to it. And then again. And then again. And then again. And then again. Until it became a part of the soundtrack to an era, and ultimately Bugge Wesseltoft became a part of the musical canon of my life.
The band started off the first set with an experimental blanket of sound in the borderlands between an avant-garde soundscape and John Coltrane’s more etheric moments. —gradually moving into a groove reminiscent of Miles Davis’ ‘Bitches Brew’ and ‘In a Silent Way’.
From where I sat Wesseltoft’s gear looked to consist of an analogue synth, a Mac with a controller-keyboard and a grand piano with a Chaos Pad (or something similar) controlling a feed from the piano mics. One of my friends, a young French lady who is a seasoned pianist, noted how she loved the sound of the grand piano that was on stage (even when the effects were active). A compliment also to the sound engineer that the tone of the instrument was well transmitted.
One of the numbers consisted mostly of Wesseltoft exploring the grand piano on his own. He started off by letting the piano trigger a rattly noise-band that drew the thoughts towards John Cage's prepared piano. Gradually (and naturally) he made his way through choruses, ring-modulations, delays and more. Where delays or samples hung for a long time he would paint harmonies up against them with a broad brush. While with the ring-modulation he used a swift and percussive playing style somewhat reminiscent of Cecil Taylor (I suppose we all would hear different references depending on our own listening). His exploration of the grand piano is a good example of the development in his pieces. One piano-phrase triggers an electronic response, the response triggers the mind of the musician and the dance begins. There phrases and structures may be planned out ahead, but the processing is as much a part of the composition as anything. Perhaps these pieces are more ‘ideas’ than ‘compositions’?
Wesseltoft’s band is not of the ordinary. He says in a recent video that he ended up with an all-female band, in part because of their different approach to music. Compared to the ‘Jazz guys […] they are a little bit less bragging somehow’. Also, the stage naturally looks spectacular with a bunch of glamorous girls setting a Modesty-Blaise-meets-1960's-Mote-Carlo-with-a-dash-of-Viking-princess-vibe.
At the centre-front of the stage we find the drummer Siv Øyun Kjenstad. In addition to playing difficult things (dense playing, active left foot and dancing around with off beats on the ride in high-tempo; you get the idea), she visibly has fun. My above mentioned friend said she really enjoyed watching Kjenstad play, as she smiles with her whole face when she is getting into the groove.
|'Cinderella and the mad electronics Professor'|
The second set started off with tabla and guitar. Oddrun Lilja Jonsdottir and Sanskriti Shrestha have a new album out on Jazzland Records (Wesseltoft’s label, who is also celebrating its 20th anniversary this year). (Here is a link to another performance of the same piece that started of the second set.)
During one of the last pieces of the night I thought I heard a familiar piano run. Then I heard it again! Is this... Basie? Then they followed — the tweaked and twisted samples of horn stacks from The Kid from The Red Bank. The track is well known for Norwegian ears as it is the introduction to iconic radio-show Reiseradioen that has run every summer for generations. Apparently the piece is from New Conceptions of Jazz's first album in 1996, but I can’t find the track at the moment so I won’t be able to provide a link.
My friends and I found it hard to know just what to expect when walking into a Bugge Wesseltoft concert, and ironically, that’s exactly what we got! A groovy and experimental jazz-night with a wide variety of musical influences. We had fun!
Bugge Wesseltoft (keys, electronics)
Marthe Lea (sax, flute, vocals)
Oddrun Lilja Jonsdottir (guitar)
Sanskriti Shrestha (tabla-drums, vocals)
Siv Øyun Kjenstad (drums, vocals)
(Pictures for this article by Harald Haltvik and FredrikThommesen)