Bugge Wesseltoft entered the radar of jazz fans world-wide when Jan Garbarek and Arild Andersen engaged him for two milestone projects within the same year. Garbarek used Wesseltoft's skills as a keyboard player alongside German piano maestro Rainer Brüninghaus for the project "Molde Canticle", a commission for the Moldejazz festival, that resulted in the marvelous album "I Took Up the Runes" (ECM, 1990). For Andersen, Wesseltoft handled both keyboards and piano on the commissioned project "Sagn" for Vossajazz , later referred to as a cornerstone in Andersen's discography (Kirkelig Kulturverksted, 1990). Before that, Wesseltoft was quite unknown. After those two projects, he was brought in as a session player on quite a number of projects and albums in a wide variety of genres.
However, it was his first solo album "New Conception of Jazz" (Jazzland, 1997) that really propelled him into the center stage of the jazz arena. Wesseltoft became a central participant in a movement of musicians that introduced a paradigm shift in modern jazz by blending jazz, electronica and club music into something utterly compelling that no one ever heard before. His project became a great success in Europe as fans of all these genres found this mix intriguing and fresh. Wesseltoft is still considered a pioneer of modern European jazz, and keeps on being a great influence on younger musicians. (And in fact some will say that, as brilliant as e.g. the album "Mehliana" (Nonesuch Records, 2013) by American jazz star Brad Mehldau and Mark Guiliana is, nothing is explored there that Wesseltoft & co didn't already explore in the 90s. I personally don't see such things as negative, as it may draw larger listener groups to check out the music of Wesseltoft and others.)
Even though the "New Conception of Jazz" project is what Wesseltoft is best known for around the globe, he really is, and always has been, a musician with a remarkably broad palette.
His three duo albums with Sidsel Endresen, "Nightsong" (Curling Legs, 1993), "Duplex Ride" (Curling Legs, 1997) and "Out Here. In There" (Jazzland, 2002) created a foundation for experimenting with what jazz and music in general can be. Wesseltoft has continued to pursue this experiment on his later solo albums "IM" (Jazzland, 2007) and "Playing" (Jazzland, 2009), whereas Endresen has continued her experimentation in a slightly different direction, deconstructing the concepts of language and song through projects with the likes of Stian Westerhus and Helge Sten.
Wesseltoft has also over the years matured a lot as a piano player, and has worked on melodic projects with pure acoustic piano, like on "It's Snowing On My Piano" (ACT, 1997), "Songs" (Jazzland, 2011), and on the duo project "Last Spring" (ACT, 2012) with world-renowned classical violinist Henning Kraggerud.
And his love for melting together different kinds of music to try to come up with new things also gave birth to a world music project commissioned by Oslo World Music Festival, making it possible for him to assemble a band with musicians from Spain, India, UK, Lebanon and Mozambique. The result was the album "OK World" (Jazzland, 2013).
Still, there is no denying that the mix of jazz with electronica is close to his heart. The two releases with Henrik Schwarz, "Duo" (Jazzland, 2011) and "Trialogue" (Jazzland, 2014), the latter also with bass player Dan Berglund of e.s.t. fame, gave him the chance to work with an electronica artist and producer with a different background and approach than other people he has worked with earlier. This has led to yet another fresh approach to the concept of mixing jazz and electronica.
Now comes the album "Bugge & Friends" (Jazzland, 2015), which revisits the ideas behind the original New Conception of Jazz.
Some years ago, Wesseltoft made a habit of taking a collection of artists from his own Jazzland Recordings label out on the road under the moniker Jazzland Community. The Bugge & Friends project might be seen as a continuation of this tradition, as it features Torun Eriksen, Andreas Bye and the entire trio of Beady Belle as part of the line-up. Eriksen and Beate Slettevoll Lech each grace one song with their exquisite vocal capabilities. And Marius Reksjø¸ (bass), Erik Holm (percussion), and Andreas Bye (drums) make for a killer rhythm section.
As brilliant as these musicians are, it is the rest of the cast that sets this project apart from earlier collaborations. This project made it possible for Wesseltoft to bring together some of his own heroes and fellow pioneers of the "jazz meets club music" movement from the late 90s and early 00s in the same band at the same time.
French jazz trumpeter Erik Truffaz broke through around the same time as Wesseltoft with the album "The Dawn" (Blue Note, 1998), sporting similar ideas, mixing jazz with hip-hop, dance music and rock. Truffaz and Wesseltoft played together for the first time in 2000 when Truffaz sat in as a guest with the New Conception of Jazz, and they've played together on several occasions since.
Joaquin "Joe" Claussell is from New York, but with a Caribbean background. Most people will know him as a House/Dance music DJ from the New York scene, but he also is a more than competent percussionist, programmer and keyboard player. Wesseltoft has said that his interest in club music was induced by listening to great DJs and appreciating their musical taste and sense of mixing and building dynamic waves, and that Claussell was one of the DJs that really opened his eyes in that respect.
Swedish/Turkish saxophone player Ilhan Ersahin has lived in New York since the early 90s. He started a widely known club called Nublu Club in Manhattan in 2002, and out of that grew the Nublu Orchestra and what was to be known as the "Nublu sound", blending jazz and urban street music with ethnical elements. Later he started the label Nublu Records in 2005 and, more recently, the annual Nublu Jazz Festival. All these initiatives have made Ersahin a household name on the vibrant New York scene, and many well-known musicians have been involved in collaborations related to Nublu. He also recorded the album "Our Theory" (Nublu, 2006) with Eric Truffaz, among others.
So, with the CVs of the aforementioned musicians, it is easy to understand that it must have been almost a dream come true for Wesseltoft to be able to get them all together to form Bugge & Friends. The band played live for the first time at Oslo Jazz Festival in 2011, and later played several gigs in Norway and Europe, among them the Nattjazz festival in Bergen (2012) that I was so lucky to attend.
Right from the start, the atmosphere of club rhythms mixed with Wesseltoft's piano style heavily influenced by the American jazz tradition of the late 60s is easily recognizable on "Play it". Truffaz and Ersahin come in to play the main theme in a disciplined ensemble-style. The first solo opportunities for the two horn players, supported by some nice percussion work from Holm and Claussell, come on the second track, "Do it", which is a very accessible pop tune, though not without the jazz influence. Eriksen's vocal qualities are perfect for this tune.
"Faz it" opens up with a beautiful smoky solo intro from Truffaz before Ersahin doubles with Truffaz for the main theme, and then the rest of the band comes in to deliver a very cool up-tempo backdrop for Truffaz's competent solo work. A laid-back Rhodes solo from Wesseltoft gets some very nice backing from Claussell/Holm.
"Breed it" opens with some excellent piano work by Wesseltoft, drawing inspiration from both impressionists like Satie in one moment and smoky jazz clubs in the next. Slowly he is joined by the rhythm section before Ersahin and Truffaz again doubles on the "chorus". Ersahin delivers a truly soulful solo here.
"Make it", being a somewhat open and "chaotic" tune, is a rare opportunity to hear Beate Slettevoll Lech improvise rather freely on an album, which doesn't happen very often (of course, it is a much more common occurrence live). That ought to change. She is a great improviser and really does well among this A-team within the art of improvisation.
Wesseltoft's piano work occasionally touches on the gospel tradition, and Reksjø delivers a superbly catchy bass line.
"Saisir", has Holm doing some fine work on the edge of the snare drum throughout while Wesseltoft gives one of his trademarks Rhodes solos, followed by an equally brilliant solo by Truffaz, who is also credited as writer. This is excellent club music, though the theme, again played in ensemble-style by the horns, gives the impression of a much slower tune than it is, making for a slightly schizophrenic feel to it.
The closing number, or should I say claussing number, "Clauss it", sports one of Reksjø's signature bass lines coupled with tight drums/percussion work over which both Truffaz and Ersahin lay down some freely improvised and heavily processed horn work. Claussell's elegant percussion fades out the album. This track is the only one where all musicians are credited as writers, and it is a nice way to end a very groovy album indeed.
Bugge & Friends might not be as ground-breaking or experimental as some of Wesseltoft's earlier projects, but that's hardly the point here. According to Wesseltoft, this project is about creating good energy and good vibes between the musicians and the audience. And to that I'll have to say: Mission accomplished! It's simply impossible to be in a bad mood after listening to this music. It is catchy and cool and optimistic, and placed in a musical landscape that certainly hasn’t run out of steam yet.
Released in the spring and with the summer not far away, this should be a perfect album to use as a soundtrack for summer parties, in the car on the way to the beach or chilling out over a beer after a hot summer day. This music is easily accessible without being simplistic. Music lovers of most contemporary music styles should find plenty to enjoy from this unique line-up of great musicians.