In a 2008 interview, Bugge Wesseltoft
spoke of his despair at seeing civilians suffer throughout history, unable to protect their families and children from wars. He also noted that watching such events unfold from the safety of his Norwegian homeland was painful. Wesseltoft had recently released his superb album IM
(Jazzland Recordings, 2007) which found him on reflective form at the piano.
Come the pandemic of 2020, Wesseltoft was caught in a similar climate of fear to those with whom he had expressed sympathy. Having to safeguard his loved ones at all costs was a situation he dreaded most. Not surprisingly, the music he now offers from this period echoes the quietly intense sounds of IM
, where a sense of cultural trauma and healing flows throughout. Even the album's title Be Am
expresses the need for spiritual courage amid a context of anxiety. Indeed, the twelve sketches presented here remind us of music's pivotal role as a mental tonic.
Raised in Skien, south-west of Oslo, Wesseltoft is the founder of Jazzland, and a composer to speak of in the same breath as Keith Jarrett
, Espen Eriksen
or Abdullah Ibrahim
. His various group projects include the stellar trio Rymden
whose album Space Sailors
(Jazzland, 2020) was an absolute cosmic belter. But the contrast here is stark, as Wesseltoft dials down the sonic booms, so each piece bears its own emotional weight. His piano has a bell-like tone on tracks such as "Deeper," where personal memories seem to be stored in each sonorous chord. Moreover, the yearning phrases of "Tide" bring a melody of great pathos, finding Wesseltoft at his most eloquent. Meanwhile, "State" is a piece of dark agitation, with hypnotic pulses and fleeting moments of dissonance. By contrast, a silvery trickle of kalimba notes on "Life" is set against some idyllic piano, book-ended by recordings of birdsong. The composer twice invites company, in the shape of Hakon Kornstad
, who pours out his saxophone's heart on "Emerging" and "Roads" over the mellow clunk of an electric piano. Elsewhere, certain track titles carry an obvious message, such as "Gonna Be Ok," where the gentle keyboard lilt has a bluesy refrain, and the restful closing number "Sunbeams Through Leaves Softly Rustling" suggests the solace of nature.
One could mistake these moody melancholy ballads for saying something sorrowful. More likely, Wesseltoft is posting them as an act of creative ecstasy, of the overwhelming joy he takes in survival. It might be partly an elegy, but Be Am
is an album made from benevolent rays of hope.
Resonate; Tide; State; Emergence; Roads; Messenger; Green; Be Am; Life; Gonna Be Ok; Deeper; Sunbeams Through Leaves Softly Rustling.