Bugge Wessletoft - Born To Boogie
To those of you out there that have been glued to the late night radio sessions from the awesome Gilles Peterson will doubtless have heard the name Bugge Wesseltoft mentioned more than a couple of times. Wesseltoft has been mining his otherworldly blend of airy jazz harmonies, dirty electronica, and driving drum 'n' bass and house beats for almost ten years now. Yet most people's idea of European jazz is more avant-garde and free, unstructured and highly cerebral, not as direct and downright intriguing as Wesseltoft's.
Bespectacled and smiling, we met back in February for a Jazzlands Label launch night at London's Jazz Café. Jazzlands is his label, started to release his music in the main, yet he has also been instrumental in breaking critically acclaimed new comers like Beady Belle (making her debut in London tonight). Yet leaping in to the present Wesseltoft now releases his third 'New Conception Of Jazz' and it's his journey from ECM obscurity to dance floor success across Europe, and it's this latest mellower, more trance-like progression that he is currently working on.
Bugge doesn't see his progression from ECM accompanist to avant-garde electronic wizard, as his transition was a spontaneous move that arose from an opportunity to record his own music. "That was the goal to mix this acoustic organic thing," enthuses Bugge, "with very static just repeating, electronic thing just to see if it worked." And the new ever extending, morphing jams are testimony to the continued joy Wesseltoft finds in the ever-varying sounds he is capable of creating. "It's two worlds meeting, it's nice when we're on stage in those moments where we are able to really create those kinds of dynamics with the mixture of these two things," he elaborates. Bugge's show includes some manic swapping between banks of mini Moogs, a battered Fender Rhodes and many multi coloured boxes, switch boards and gizmos - a wiring nightmare that any self-respecting electrician would think twice about trying to hot wire. His Queen Elizabeth Hall gig last September almost didn't happen due to such a technical failure, yet Mark De Clive Lowe supplied a stand in keyboard so things could go ahead. Wesseltoft also has a stockpile of old and ancient keyboards at home, many too fragile to make it out of the house for the rigours of a tour.
With his roots in an informal education from his father, a jazz musician in Norway - regretfully missing out on a formal jazz education - classical music still being just too insurmountable for this talented and versatile artist, Bugge is completely self-taught. He explained, "I really wish I was a better piano player in terms of reading music and being able to play classical music. I wish I could play all that beautiful classical stuff, but I can't."
His father's awareness of the perils of being a jazz musician in Oslo - akin to being a top surfer in the Nevada dessert, (pretty impossible) - forced a more commercial awareness on his determined son. "Being a jazz musician in Norway is very difficult, so you have to do other kind of jobs, and he always told me to be just a good musician. That was his thing, being able to play all kinds of things. So I became like a typical session musician doing everything from music to cabaret and the rest. There are millions of musicians like that. It was really boring, but then I came in to contact with some really good jazz musicians like Jan Garbarek and Arild Anderson and I started to play with them."
Wesseltoft's subsequent discovery that he could now play music full time as a jazz musician and the arrival of a wife and family all combined to calm him down and focus his new found creativity in to something completely his own. Writing from an early age, Bugge has always striven for an identity - yet his approach is not always embraced by other jazz musicians. "Some like it and some don't, I know that a lot of jazz musicians think it's dangerous to mix it with electronics. They feel it's like a threat to jazz music, which I don't think. That's their problem, unless they don't like our music. With today's technology it is fully possible to improvise with electronic stuff, the systems are so fast and so real time. I know that people like John Scofield has been listening to our music [Laughs]. He's started a band now with a DJ!"
Wesseltoft's cool European sensibilities give him a less than affectionate opinion of regurgitated American jazz histrionics, "It's like a museum, it's really boring!" Yet lays the blame fairly and squarely at the feet of the record companies, people only buy what they are sold, so it seems. "As long as they are getting up there in suits and playing, acoustic, '60s jazz, that is what people are going for I suppose," he quips, chugging happily on a cigarette.
He continues, "I had a funny gig with Roy Hargrove on the bill, a great trumpet player, but really boring music I think. He and his band put on their suits and ties and then afterwards there was a jam session and they came on and they did some hip-hop dancing and some funky stuff, and that was what they liked! Somehow I got the feeling this was the music they really liked, the drummer was a really good breakdancer. They were smiling when they played this, when earlier they had been really…[pulls serious face]". Underlining the fact that these talented musicians are forced to play within the given limitations of a major record deal.
Wesseltoft's influences stretch way back to the '70s when he first discovered Herbie Hancock's 'Sextant' and its liberal use of hard electronic sounds against the tried and tested dynamics of a big band. Bugge's eyes light up as describes Hancock's inspiring approach." When I heard that for the first time I just thought, 'Wow!' He was using an Echoplex and all these electronic devices and mixed it in with a big band and acoustic bass, and it sounded so modern, incredibly modern. I can still play it to people who haven't heard it, and I ask them 'when do you think this album was made?' And they all say 'last year?' So I wanted to create that kind of sound but bring in computers and that kind of thing."
The softer more emotive side is evident on this latest recording, Wesseltoft striving once again to break a few more barriers down. Perhaps this will be a journey that never reaches its destination, but as they say the fun is in the getting there. Bugge Wesseltoft is most definitely getting there.