Three years after the 2011 album "Duo", documenting electronic artist and producer Henrik Schwarz and maestro of the keys Bugge Wesseltoft's start as collaborating artists, the duo is now extended to a trio with Dan Berglund, well known as one third of the legendary Swedish Esbjörn Svensson Trio (e.s.t.), on acoustic bass. The title "Trialogue" is a very good description of how this album works, with all three musicians commenting on each other's input the music, no one really stealing the spotlight from the others.
Berglund is a great addition to this former duo. Fans of
Wesseltoft will already know that one of the big secrets of the appeal of this
kind of music all the way from "New Conception of Jazz" (1997) to
"Trialogue" is to mix acoustic and electronic instruments in what is
often called "an organic way" for lack of a better term. It is the
contrast of the often "harsh" and artificial electronic sounds with
softer acoustic tones that makes this music stand out. And maybe
"contrast" is not the right word. What really happens is that
electronic and acoustic sounds form some kind of symbiosis where they both feed
off each other. An acoustic bass is therefore a perfect extension to this mix,
contributing strongly to an even better balance than on "Duo".
Having said that, Berglund is far more than an "ordinary" bass player, as fans of e.s.t. will be more than willing to testify to. Here he moves between soloing and serving up bass lines both arco and pizzicato. He's also no stranger to modifying the bass sound through use of different kinds of effects, adding plenty of variation to his input to this trio. All compositions are credited to all three musicians, and I suspect that Berglund has his share of the merit for the change in direction from "Duo" to "Trialogue".
Two of the tracks, "Movement Eleven" and "Movement Seventeen" feature added contributions from a string trio and bass trombone, courtesy of musicians from the Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg. These added sounds, arranged by Wesseltoft, blend in perfectly with the trio without tipping the balance between the acoustic and electric.
Wesseltoft is focusing on "traditional" keyboards (grand piano, Fender Rhodes, Mini-Moog, Prophet) in this trio (with the exception of some percussion), since Schwarz is more than capable of handling the electronics. Bugge has matured as a piano player relative to the NCOJ days (which is not to say that he was a bad one at that time!). All the time spent touring and playing as a solo artist, not least in relation to his two fully acoustic solo albums "It's Snowing on My Piano" (1997) and "Songs" (2011), has done him good, and he is a much more interesting pianist with a much broader palette than he was ten or fifteen years ago. And I actually think he will evolve and become even better on the piano in the years to come! This evolution of course also benefits the way he treats his other instruments. Still, his best talent is how he listens, and how he's able to blend into a given piece of music "just right", that is, not too much and not too little, so that the music becomes and remains coherent. As with many of his fellow Norwegian musicians, Bugge knows that it is just as important to know when not to play as when to play, a phrase that may start to become a cliché, but which, in my opinion, cannot be overrated. I also feel he has become even better at deciding where his different instruments should be used, e.g. where to use the Moog vs the grand piano etc.
Given Schwarz's long career as a producer, it is obvious that he also has a good talent for listening and being able to hear what works and what doesn't. Schwarz has more or less the "opposite" approach to this music from his bandmates, as he comes from a techno/dance background towards improvised music, whereas Wesseltoft/Berglund comes from a jazz/improvisation background towards electronic music. This is part of the reason why "Trialogue" stands out as an album. Schwarz contributes something unique to this collaboration. He likes to find rhythms, sounds and patterns that are not composed as such, but are the result of just experimenting and combining sounds and rhythms at different speeds through the computer. He then feeds it to Wesseltoft/Berglund and lets them react to what they hear, giving himself the opportunity to react to their playing, and hence the "Trialogue" is a fact.
One key factor that enables Schwarz to work with Wesseltoft
and Berglund in this way, is that advances in technology in recent years has
made it possible to treat a computer as a real instrument in a live situation,
meaning they can act as three fully equal contributors at all times, in the studio
as well as on stage.
The trio started out playing live concerts where they would improvise extensively. All the concerts were recorded. Listening back to the tapes, they decided on parts they wanted to develop further, and the result of this refinement process is this album. And this is a real strength of the album. Most of my favourite albums - to some extent – have been tried out on live audiences by their creators prior to recording them. More often than not, this pays off if you want to create an album with a certain longevity.
Most tracks have a clear melodic core, and there is a melancholic mood to the overall album, even to the "up-tempo" tracks ("Headbanger Polka" and "This is My Day"). Schwarz' techno roots are not easily spotted here, even though you can hear hints here and there if you are familiar with his background. "This is My Day" is the one track on the album with a "club atmosphere", resonating both Schwarz' and Wessetoft's interest for this genre.
The other tracks are more rooted in a classic European music
tradition, but this is often "hidden" between layers of ambience,
repeating patterns, improvised parts and more "jazzy" elements.
"Trialogue" is a very consistent album that through both rhythmic and more laid-back tracks never compromises the aforementioned balance, both between all three musicians and between the acoustic and electronic elements. To me this makes "Trialogue" a more successful project than "Duo", as I felt that "Duo" was lacking "something". With Berglund on board everything falls more neatly into place.
We can only hope that the three musicians will find the time and inspiration/curiosity to explore this project even further in the future.