Molde Jazz: Day 1, July 13, 2009
For the past several years, keyboardist Bugge Wesseltoftwho first came to international attention for his series of New Conception of Jazz albums that, along with releases like Nils Petter Molvær's Khmer (ECM, 1997) and Supersilent's 1-3 (Rune Grammofon, 1998), signaled the beginning of a new phase of remarkable creativity and invention coming out of Norwayhas been honing solo performance to meld both his improvisational abilities on piano with the same technology he brought to bear with his more groove-centric NCOJ groups. As far back as his performance at Punkt Festival '06, he was positing how pianist Keith Jarrett might approach pulling music from the ether, were he not so technology averse. Still, while improvisation and interpretation are key comparison points between Jarrett and Wesseltoft, the Norwegian pianist does work with formal structures in performance, something Jarrett has long deserted.
Wesseltoft's IM (Jazzland, 2007) wasn't his first solo piano album (1998's It's Snowing on My Piano, on ACT, was), but it was his first to document a growing approach to seamless integration of real-time sampling, processing and looping with increasingly virtuosic but never excessive pianism. Playing (Jazzland, 2009), from which much of his Molde performance was culled alongside IM, further evolved the approach, with an even stronger link to the jazz tradition and improvisation, even as Wesseltoft dispensed with so many of its conventions.
Beginning, as he usually does, with a pure piano piece evocative of the kind of solo piano music that ECM made famous in the early 1970s with albums by Jarrett, Chick Corea, Paul Bley and Steve Kuhn, Wesseltoft demonstrated his ability to mine even the sparest of ideas and use silence and the decaying note as equal partners to his more overt lyricism. There may have been form driving much of Wesseltoft's set, but equally there was a kind of spontaneity and free flowing ideation that made it a similar but ultimately different performance than his Mai Jazz show in Stavanger, Norway in 2008, and his brief solo spot that opened the Jazzland Community performance in Montreal, Canada in 2007.
When Wesseltoft first introduced in-the-moment processing towards the end of his opening pieceand it was only for a moment, taking a just-played chord and sending it to the ether with a heavily reverbed color similar to that of ambient innovators Harold Budd and Brian Eno on Ambient 2: The Plateaux of Mirror (EG, 1980)it only hinted at what was to come. With a table containing a laptop and keyboard behind him, and foot pedals situated both near the piano and the table, Wesseltoft began to gradually introduce greater sonics, not only looping small piano fragments, but sounds obtained inside the piano, from tambourines that, when processed, sounded like massive frame drums, clapping and his own voice.
Driven by that frame drum-sounding tambourine, Wesseltoft recreated the synth chord-diven "Singing," leaning into and away from the piano as he began to solo over the looped changes, he then added a gentle vocal line that was supported by the words to US President Barack Obama's presidential nomination acceptance speech on the projection screen behind him. As with Henriksen's performance, Wesseltoft's show was equally driven by imagesshifting in real-time thanks to his sound and lighting technicianranging from concentric circles expanding outward in time with the music to effected shots of the pianist from three different webcams, rich colors and more.
Wesseltoft also utilized speakers in the back of the hall to create a sonic landscape that enveloped the audience on songs like "Hands," one of two encores. This began with Wesseltoft creating moving harmonics over dampened notes from inside the piano, but ultimately shifting into a catchy, gospel-driven section bolstered by the pianist's clapping hands, and comical, raunchy utterance of "Ooooh, yeah."
Wesseltoft also demonstrated his clear respect for the American jazz traditionsomething he also alluded to clearly in his interview segment on The Documentary Channel's four-part series, Icons Among Us: Jazz in the Present Tense (Paradigm Studio, 2009)but this time, rather than twisting the Dave Brubeck hit, Paul Desmond's "Take Five" on its side, he took Miles Davis' classic from Kind of Blue (Columbia, 1959), "All Blues," and gave it a treatment that began reverentially but gradually took on an altered state. And while one of Wesseltoft's many roots are undeniably in jazz, so too is the Norwegian tradition a part of who he is, closing his set with a piece evocative of tranquil landscapes and stark imagery.
Where Wesseltoft will go next is anybody's guess, but as he continues to evolve his solo performances to more seamlessly integrate form, freedom, sound and vision, he continues to posit his undeniable importance, not just on the Norwegian scene where he is a clear heavyweight, but internationally, where his visibility continues to grow.
Tomorrow: Arve Henriksen/Marilyn Mazur, and Tomasz Stańko 's Dark Eyes Quintet.
All Photos: John Kelman