Bugge Wesseltoft & Henrik Schwarz at Dancity Festival 2010 from dancity on Vimeo.
When some collaborations occur, it feels like Fate has been paying close attention, planning something special. On one hand: Bugge Wesseltoft, pianist, composer and pioneer of electronic jazz; on the other: Henrik Schwarz, one of the most sought after producers of electronic music who has remixed stars from Michael Jackson to Ane Brun. This combination may not seem as radical as once it might, as in the days before Bugge’s New Conception of Jazz, but the results most certainly are: this does not feel like your typical electronic jazz outing. It’s a Super-Group in microcosm.
Wesseltoft comes from a jazz background and has moved towards electronic music. He started on the ECM label with Jan Garbarek, and later collaborated with club music legends like Laurent Garnier and Francois Kervorkian on stage. Schwarz comes from the Chicago/ Detroit techno culture, and performs at music festivals and in clubs on all continents. He has been moving towards the jazz and improvisation. Henrik: "Bugge and myself are moving towards each other, there are these energies."Bugge explains: "This duo feels totally organic. We are creating music on the spot, both live and in the studio. With today’s electronic tools you can really improvise with them, and Henrik is so clever with his stuff - he makes amazing music from scratch. He is doing a really kind of mellow playing, which is great because we can make this spontaneous kind of music together. Henrik adds: "For me this Duo is like the first words in a long conversation. The music that is coming out of this sounds very, very new and unheard to me - there is a lot to explore in the future. We have a concept when we sit down. So we know it's all different, but there's a certain kind of frame for everything. There's a starting point."
It is this "organic" aspect that is most surprising. The album opener, the aptly named "First Track", represents ambient Jazz at its finest. A grand opening statement? Not quite. It’s more like a buzz on the streets, excited whispers of what is to come. This was the very first collaboration between the duo, totally improvised, and recorded in Berlin in 2009. Like other spontaneous compositions on the album, such as "Dudelange" and "Where is the Edge?", the feeling of natural and spontaneous growth is omnipresent, both showing how even when Bugge leads the way in, it’s as though Henrik has been waiting for him, armed with an arsenal of great ideas and smart moves. "Where is the Edge?" also demonstrates how the improvisational emphasis does not necessarily mean that "improvisation = jazz" in any stylistic sense - this is an energetic track worthy of any dancefloor. The lines between live playing and live sampling blur, and, without a visual reference, it becomes impossible to tell which musician is responsible for any given sound you are hearing. The duo organically entwines to become a single unit. It becomes difficult to discern where Bugge ends and Henrik begins (where is the edge?!) Henrik: "For me the improvisational aspect means freedom and at the same time improvisation has been one of the greatest limitations and challenges in live electronic music for many years now. For me, this is a dream come true and a big next step."
By contrast, the interpretation of compositions enforces a different approach, yet the results remain coherent with those of the spontaneous compositions. "Dreamin’" has a techno edge, but retains its jazz feel throughout, building to a burning groove, dynamic and gutsy. Grand piano and Retro synth sounds collage and blend through to an organic dub. This is a track that first appeared on Bugge’s most recent solo outing, "Playing", but here it is utterly re-imagined within the duo context. The track moves in waves, a magical ebb and flow. Next up, a Schwarz track, "Leave My Head Alone Brain", a club hit (originally featuring Henrik’s vocals), is given a different life as a club jazz workout that travels at light speed from the brain directly to the feet. The beat and bass provide a canvas that Bugge & Henrik fill with shifting colours and textures, the live-sampling and loops creating complex layers of interplay. Henrik: "For the album we wanted to keep the live rough feel, keep it spontaneous but maybe shorten the paths a little bit. But the dynamics remain untouched."
Of the other tracks, "See You Tomorrow" is an acknowledged nod to Ligeti, and opens with beautiful and contemplative piano from Bugge, before shifting gear with a hint of Miles Davis electric era. The bass line created by muted piano strings offers a sense of stability, yet seems to have hidden unpredictability, almost a sense of menace. But the track’s evolution progresses towards a disintegration rather than some kind of explosion. It is a truly beautiful track. "Kammermusik" is evocative of an entirely different musical world while remaining in the Bugge/Henrik style, with simple modal movements underpinned by Henrik’s impeccable sense of rhythmic construction (a superb example of less is more), while Bugge creates a memorable piano line, reminiscent in feel of Astor Piazzolla, a feeling that is accentuated by a layer of harmonic accordion. The track’s evolution is a marvel, and connects back to the mutant Latin groove found in "Dudelange". "One One", recorded live in Cologne, another spontaneous composition demonstrating the duo’s improvisational wizardry, was improvised on the spot as an encore, with Bugge on Moog Synthesiser. The piece quickly takes shape as an ambient techno track, and provides magnificent close to a fantastic set that is probably one of the single most robust statements of electronic/acoustic improvisation.
Yet, while the innovative technical aspects of the album are truly remarkable, it is the final results that shine brightest. If we forget about the wizardry going on and just listen, what we have is the sound of great contemporary music. When asked what the most exciting aspect of their collaboration was, Bugge quickly responds: "Meeting and working with Henrik. No doubt!" And Henrik just as quickly agrees: "Yes - meeting Bugge - absolutely. Everybody who has ever tried to play with someone else knows how difficult it is to find the right partner. When you find the right one it becomes magical, and that's what it’s all about in the end."
All the technical marvels in the world count for nothing unless they are in the hands of people with genuine musical talent, and it is the respective talents of Bugge Wesseltoft and Henrik Schwarz that Fate must have been observing when they were brought together. After listening, fans of each artist will undoubtedly hope for more in the future.