Bugge Wesseltoft: Be Am

The Norwegian keyboard player goes almost entirely solo again, touching on Morton Feldman, hymnody, neo-classicism, gospel and the Scandi ballad

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Not only is it 25 years since Bugge Wesseltoft founded the influential Jazzland Records label, it is also 25 years since his first album of solo piano. It’s a format Wesseltoft has returned to again and again, though usually with some overarching theme or concept at play.

Whilst Be Am has been shaped and conditioned by Wesseltoft’s experiences of Covid-19, it’s a loose theme that he handles with great subtly. Revealing the scars and healing wrought by the pandemic through choices of mood and tone, Wesseltoft essentially plays from the heart.

Resonate carries echoes of Morton Feldman, and as its repeating three-note figure echoes in the silence a sense of unease hangs in the air. Tide, by contrast, is almost hymnal, resigned to the oncoming wave while hopeful that it will pass. The refined neo-classicism of State is one of several outstanding new compositions, and once again Wesseltoft balances anguish and hope.

Although Be Am is primarily a solo vehicle, saxophonist Håkon Kornstad guests on two tracks. Emerging is a short rubato bridging piece, flutter-tongued reeds melding with Wesseltoft’s liquid Fender Rhodes. The stunningly beautiful Roads, already released as a single, couldn’t be more in tune with our times. It’s a soulful Scandi ballad, Wesseltoft conveying a sense of a slumbering world returning to motion.

Elsewhere the soft kalimba-tones of Life take us to an altogether peaceful place, Gonna Be OK has an uplifting gospel vibe, Deeper plunges us into a resonant low-end sound world, and Sunbeams brings the set to a hopeful close with its elegant Satie-like rays.

While there’s lots to enjoy in Wesseltoft’s more conceptually themed solo sets, with the possible exception of 2014’s Im none have offered such a privileged and unmediated view of his creative juices at work as Be Am.

Discography:
Resonate; Tide; State; Emerging; Roads; Messenger; Green; Be Am; Life; Gonna Be OK; Deeper; Sunbeams Through Leaves Softly Rustling (39.00)
Wesseltoft (p, elp, effects, kalimba); with Håkon Kornstad (ts) on 4 & 5. April-June 2021, Oslo.
Jazzland Recordings 377 9432