Interview: Beautiful Music from Norway - Bugge Wesseltoft!
It’s jazz. It’s world music. It’s neoclassicism; sometimes even rock. That’s Norwegian keyboardist and composer Bugge Wesseltoft, who will perform in Rigas Ritmi Festival 2015 on 2nd of July, together with his nu-jazz friends, thus the name of the project - “Bugge ‘N’ Friends”.
- Nowadays, you are one of the biggest stars in Norwegian jazz…
Well, I don’t know really about that. There are some really great musicians.
- You are a very Scandinavian kind of modern jazz artist, but you also love to work together with people from all over the world. What’s more on your schedule – Norwegian electro-jazz scene or world music?
In the late nineties, I was so lucky to be able to travel outside of Norway with my music – this is when I met all those amazing musicians. I went to Asia, I went to other European countries and so on. I was fascinated by the musicians I met along the way. For me, it’s been amazing to be able to expand my musical horizons with music from almost all over the world.
- Your album “OK World” is a perfect example of what the modern world music album should sound.
Thank you very much! I agree! It was an attempt to kind of merge different styles of music, played by different musicians. I went to India and Africa, and Lebanon. Everywhere I met amazing musicians and I wanted to merge them into the new project. I like it very much, but it’s a little bit outside of my work in the jazz scene.
- And also the last album – “Trialogue”. That is just… beautiful music. It is even hard to pin-point it’s style. Is it some kind of new direction for you?
Well, thank you very much, I like to hear that! This is closer to what I am mainly doing. I always tried to mix jazz music with electronic music, with computer-generated sounds. So “Trialogue” is closer to where I come from. It’s a collaboration with two other musicians – incredible laptop artist Henrik Schwarz form Berlin doing electronic music and wonderful Dan Berglund, who plays bass with “e.s.t.” (“Esbjörn Svensson Trio”, a very popular Swedish jazz band). We’ve been working together for two years now.
- What is it about jazz projects? They are not like rock bands – you record an album, go to tour, and then do the same thing with other project already. Is it hard or is it easy for a musician?
Well, the first 10-15 years, I had the group called “The New Conception of Jazz”. But for various reasons, I stopped that project and since then, I have not started another permanent band. I’m still doing collaborations. After spending so many years working with just one band, it was very nice for me to be able to work with different musicians. Next year, its the 20th anniversary of “The New Conception of Jazz” - I’ll try to start working with the group again. We’ll see what happens.
- That’s great news! Meanwhile, let’s talk about your project in Riga. It’s called “Bugge ‘N’ Friends”. What can audiences expect from that – is it some kind of electro-jazz supergroup?
It’s built again around different musicians I met travelling around the world. For example, in the end of the nineties, I begun playing in France. It was the first country I went to. And there I became friends with Erik Truffaz (trumpeter). We’ve been friends since and we play together from time to time. Then there’s an incredible guy Ilhan Ersahin – he is a Swede, who lives in New York and owns a club in Turkey. About DJ Joaquin Claussell – first time I met him in Japan many, many years ago and we talked about doing something together. I don’t know if it’s a supergroup, but it’s a friend’s thing. I wanted to put together some collaborations with people I really admire. There will also be a new album in the end of May, which I’m very happy about. It really sounds great! So we will come to Riga and will also tour for couple weeks in July. The first time we all played together was in 2011, in Oslo.
- So, in Riga you will play a programme from new album, which is called…
It’s called “Bugge ‘N’ Friends”. This will be a promo tour. We haven’t been on tour, since we went to Japan and Brazil, and some other countries, so we’re really looking forward to playing together. The sound (of the new project) is very groovy, very similar to “The New Conception of Jazz”. It’s the same type of groove-music-meets-jazz stuff.
- You are returning to Rigas Ritmi Festival. You were here in 2006. Do you have any memories from that visit?
I enjoyed it very much! It was a really nice atmosphere and I was also doing a workshop with young musicians. There were some really good singers. Normally, I only get to stay in the cities I perform for a short while, that’s why I am glad to come back to Riga to stay a little longer and visit in once more. I’ve also visited Latvia once more, for a piano festival by the sea (The Festival of Piano Stars in Liepaja, in 2005). Riga is a beautiful city and I am really looking forward to spend some more days there.
- Let's talk about education – you are teaching masterclasses, but you are not an academian. Isn’t that a discrepancy?
No. A lot of people, who study jazz, their styles become very similar. It is good to have a perspective outside of the academic circle. Some of the stuff that I teach in the masterclasses… It’s not something you can read about. You must experience it musically. It’s nothing you can learn without doing it practically. I am working on those things like interplay, jamming in groups, how to think when you play and so on. I think I am quite good at it.
- That’s what we can hear on albums and in the concerts! What to tell to new musician then? If he wants to go to schools - is it a bad or a good thing in jazz nowadays? Maybe it’s better to learn jazz your own way from “YouTube”, from concerts, from records?
Well, I think that absolutely the best way is to learn from playing concerts. To form a band and play as many concerts as you can. I believe that the value of the artist is in the meeting of the art and the craft, and the audiences. One thing is to rehearse in the room and the different thing is to perform something in front and together with the audience. It’s important to understand that you have to play concerts and shouldn’t be afraid of that. The other extremely important thing is to try to play with musicians that are more skilled than you. I was really lucky because I played with Jan Garbarek and other very incredible musicians from whom I learned a lot. I think that is a VERY important thing.
- There are extravert and introvert musicians – for the most part, which kind are you?
That’s a good question! I think I am somewhere in between. Of course, you must be in contact with the music that you’re trying to create, but it’s also important to try to catch actual energy that exists in the moment – you have to feel that. For me, it’s extremely important to create a dialogue with the ones that are listening. Once you manage to create that kind of communication, then it’s much easier to play music, because then we have an understanding. Personally, I think that sometimes music is too theoretical – its when people just go on stage and perform something that they’ve been rehearsing for a year. There’s no communication and that’s sad. For me, the best moments on stage are those, when that communication and connection happens, because that feels amazing.
- Doesn’t that depend on the style of music as well? Does your attitude towards audiences differ?
No, I think that that’s the point – it has nothing to do with the style of music! In any style of music, the artist should create a dialogue with the audience. That should prevail all. Of course, we are not performing cheesy music or anything, but you must express something you believe in and you must make it as clear as possible, so that the audience understands it and can respond to it.
- How important are music records for you these days? Or do you only perform and say “goodbye” to recording?
Well, that is an interesting question, because the whole thing is changing so much. I don’t necessarily have to make albums. I have to say that I love to play, live concerts are my favorite thing. But, till now, making an album has been important for reaching audiences also. It was important if you tried to make a living out of music also. But now that’s changing. There’s little money in selling albums. Maybe the future is concerts. For me personally – this is not a problem.
- But you yourself own the label “Jazzland”! It’s still an artsy thing to hold a record in your hands and to listen to it, not only stream it from “Spotify”.
I like both formats. I don’t know about “Spotify”, I have a thing called “WiMP” (a high fidelity music streaming service launched in Norway, in 2010, now also available in Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Germany and Poland). I love that music is so accessible and I think that it is convenient for young people that they can search for something and immediately find it. But, of course, the music business changing. Maybe that’s how it has to be. Most people want to listen to songs, not albums. Everything’s changing, but the good thing is that interest about the music is probably bigger than ever.
- Still, about “Jazzland”. How do you choose which records to release in a CD format, keeping in mind the conversation we just had?
Normally, it is like a family thing. Those are people I know, people I met and people I like musically, so I want to release an album together with them. We will try to expand the label, but you have to be more strategic in releasing an album, because it’s much more difficult to sell it now. Normally, we choose an artist who are interested in promoting their music one hundred per cent. Currently, we have signed some new artists now. We have a Swedish group called “Isabel Sörling Farvel” or just “Farvel”. They are incredible, it’s really great music. This was our first Swedish signing. We are continuing to find people, who want to work hard with their music and sign them. I think that’s important, you can’t really stop doing that.
- So if some Latvian jazz musicians wants to put out a record on your label, they can go to you and say – hi, I am superb new musician, these are my demos, maybe you want to release my album?
Sure! I will always listen to it! I have not gotten much music from Latvia, but I got some stuff from Lithuania, Czech Republic and other European countries. But, normally, we will release music from artist from Norway, because it is much easier. We must have a connection with the local music industry and promoters. It is difficult to put out a CD. And there are so many CDs! Every week, hundreds of them are coming out! And we are talking just jazz now.
- Now, vinyls are gaining popularity a bit.
I don’t really believe that. But, you can sell vinyls at concerts. In extremely small numbers, of course.
- “Bugge ‘N’ Friends” album will also come out on “Jazzland”, right?
- Will wait for the new album and the new program in Riga then!
Sure. We’re looking forward to coming back to Rigas Ritmi Festival!