Somnambule - Writing About Music

Bugge Wesseltoft – Film Ing

Bugge Wesseltoft has been one of the primary movers and shakers, along with trumpeter Nils Petter Molvaer, behind the new jazz/Nu Jazz/electro-jazz hybrids – call them what you will – coming out of Norway in recent years. Aside from his own musical career, he is also founder of Jazzland, a label whose output is as interesting as its better publicised peer, Rune Grammofon. Although the appearance of Norway’s extraordinarily fertile music scene in the late ‘90s might initially have been something of a surprise, in retrospect the groundwork was laid by renowned predecessors such as Terje Rypdal, Jan Garbarek and Marilyn Mazur.

Bugge’s first two albums as leader, ‘New Conception Of Jazz’ and ‘Sharing’ were patchwork quilts of different styles which flirted with dance music, electronics and jazz. His third album, 2001’s ‘Moving’ successfully fused house beats, reflective melodies and attention to ambience into a remarkably coherent style. It continues to stand as one of the most convincing explorations of the interface between clubland and jazz improvisation yet developed. Its followup, 2003’s ‘New Conception of Jazz Live’ was a more mixed affair. With one exception most of the tracks, all recorded in concert without overdubs, failed to push the envelope of their predecessors. ‘Live At Bla’ with guitarist John Scofield onboard, however, hinted at the potential for a sprawling template not a million miles from Miles Davis’s jazz/rock/funk hybrids of the 1970s, although rhythmic emphasis was substituted for explosive soloing.

Instead of further exploring these possibilities ‘Film Ing’ neatly, and perhaps just a little frustratingly, sidesteps the issue by returning to the stylistic eclecticism of Bugge’s first two releases. In the process ‘Moving’ appear to become something of an anomaly. Instead of fusing a cluster of ideas into a single hybrid and exploring the resulting potential, ‘Film Ing’ presents a collage of different styles which initially appears to lack a unifying concept. The album negotiates everything from electronically treated solo piano (‘Piano’) to funky goodtime jazz in the vein of Maceo Parker (‘Oh Ye’) to eery noir-like fugue (‘Indie’) to soulful worldjazz (‘Hope’ with Dhafer Youssef guesting on vocals). Without hearing the cd in its entirety, this prospect might appear to veer dangerously close to incoherence, but ‘Film Ing’ is convincing for a number of reasons. Firstly, Bugge’s subtle, empathetic playing can be found at the core of every piece: if not always in the foreground, then he’s there laying the track’s melodic or rhythmic foundations and supporting his fellow players. His enthusiasm, so evident in a live setting, also suffuses the whole endeavour. Secondly, the inventive fecundity of settings serves as a common thread. Finally, there’s that mystifying title. Here’s an uncorroborated theory: each of the eleven tracks serve as the seeds of larger dramas which they imply without laboriously detailing. The cicadas at the fadeout of first track ‘Skog’, the engine roar at the beginning of ‘Hi Is?’ and so on are the hints of scenery as backdrop to the music’s narrative action. Similarly, most of the track titles appear to be adumbrated, a part of an undisclosed sentence: it’s up to the listener to fill in the blanks and create meaning by actively engaging with the music.

In light of the above ‘Film Ing’ might be viewed as a sketchbook of ideas, however this analogy would fail to do the album justice. Each track is fully developed rather than a brief outline. As a result ‘Film Ing’ would be more appropriately described as a portmanteau movie, each part of which narrates a different story such as romance, travelogue and so on. Where Bugge will go next remains uncertain, but he continues to be well worth watching.
Colin Buttimer
May 2004
Published by Milkfactory