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Jazzkaar Interviews: Bugge Wesseltoft

Martin Longley By

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Your scribe witnessed the Nordic supergroup Rymden three times during 2019, illustrating how much this new constellation (in Norwegian, the word means 'space,' as in cosmic space) has expanded almost uncontrollably since making their debut. Even as an abstract concept, the combination was tantalising in the extreme. Purely acoustic piano and electronically distressed keyboards from Bugge Wesseltoft, combined with the bass and drums of Dan Berglund and Magnus Ostrom, previously two-thirds of the Swedish e.s.t.

Those Rymden appearances were at three festivals, and their upward curve of development was striking. The first was at Jazz à Liège, in Belgium. Rymden were uncompromising in their attention to sonic hardness, or amorphous atmosphere-weaving, often evoking a dark, mysterious swirl of committed improvisation. Their music was then still at the undiscovered stage, before too much muscle memory arrived.

Rymden also played at a pair of Norwegian festivals in 2019, Moldejazz and Punkt. At the latter, they only had 45 minutes to delve into their further-out electronics abstraction, with most of the numbers revolving around acoustic piano. Even so, they still played a compulsively evocative set of inventive jazz expansions. Their Jazzkaar gig will allow them to stretch up to the stars, taking a longer voyage of risk-taking sonic-manipulation. The 10- day Jazzkaar, in Tallinn, Estonia, is one of the finest festivals around the globe, taking place this year between 17-26 April.

Bugge Wesseltoft was hopping from Oslo to London last week, and your scribe tracked him down, asking about the genesis of Rymden. "For some years, I wanted very much to form a piano trio," he explains. "Loved the format, and I never really did that. Going forth and back on various solutions and ideas, having worked with Dan for some years [with Henrik Schwarz, the German house dj/producer] and hearing Magnus's own group, loving their playing, and of course knowing e.s.t., I decided to ask them. I was after a Nordic/European touch in the trio, jazz mixed with various influences: rock, krautrock, ambient, and even hip-hop. They were the perfect match!"

All three band members match electronic gear to their acoustic sources, or directly generate distorted, warped, or phased sonics, almost forgetting the origins of their instruments. This has become so organically integrated that there is no longer any self-conscious divide between the acoustic and electric languages. "The electroacoustic approach has been a strong element in Dan's, Magnus's and my playing for many years," Wesseltoft agrees. "I didn't even think about that, it came very naturally. I wanted it to be a completely joint venture, where we shared our music and ideas, and out of that, over time, would form our sound during live gigs. I think that's really coming together

Rymden's Live On Earth album was released towards the close of 2019, of short duration, but devoted to just three extended works, captured at various performances, reincarnating the raw matter of Reflections And Odysseys. Rymden graduate from sensitive acoustic uncertainty towards a dramatic theme, on "The Odyssey," Wesseltoft moving onto Fender Rhodes for "Pitter Patter," while Berglund sends his bass strings through a warbling corridor of disruption. Naked piano opens "The Lugubrious Youth Of Lucky Luke," which again seeks out, and finds, a developing melody, with Wesseltoft in reflective mood.

Wesseltoft has been releasing the Rymden albums on his own label, the eminently established Jazzland, which is having something of an independent revival in recent times. "We really have fun, both playing together, and socially," he continues. "We just finished our new album last week, coming out in June. Very happy with it! The intention was to form the sound of the trio by doing concerts. Our upcoming album features songs we made together, based on ideas from soundchecks and live improvisations. I love this way of shaping music. It feels very organic. I also think our strength is in the dynamic abilities in our music, from pure acoustic piano trio ballads, to heavy rock-influenced, electronic-manipulated grooves."

Your scribe asks what might be in store for the Jazzkaar gig: "It will be a mix of the previous and new albums," say Wesseltoft. "We're bringing in new tunes for every show now, and really look forward to present those to our audience. There's always improvisation in our music. We are a jazz trio, in essence. Interest and feedback were much larger than we expected, and we're extremely happy about that! We did more than 70 concerts last year. So amazing!" Clearly these three players are completely committed to ensuring that Rymden is at the core of their existence, and perhaps 2020 will manage to equal the sheer invention, road-stamina and energised evolution of their 2019 marathon. This year's datesheet is already looking extensive. Wesseltoft is fully primed: "We finished mastering and everything last week, and are very happy with the result. It's clearly a continuation of our first album, and progressing. The sound of Rymden is much more shaped, and we've moved from three individuals to being a band. That process was my dream when we started the project, and couldn't have happened without all the concerts. I'm very much looking forward to this year, and the upcoming shows..."

This Jazzkaar event is co-funded by the European Union Regional Development Fund.

Photograph: Goldo

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