Back in the late 1990s Bugge Wesseltoft was best known as a leading light in the jazz house scene that sought to integrate jazz into the electronic music of the day. His primary outlet at the time was his New Conception of Jazz project that culminated in the wonderful 2001 collection Moving and which represented a high water mark for the scene, alongside other classics like St. Germain's Boulevard from 1995. Wesseltoft has, of course, since shown us a wide and broad musical palette pursuing an idiosyncratic musical path encompassing the likes of classic collaborations with Sidsel Endresen such as Out Here. In There or the stark deep mid-winter beauty of the solo piano record It's Snowing On My Piano. Nonetheless, few would have predicted a return to jazz house and fewer still that it would be such a resounding success.
While Wesseltoft does not need to prove his talent to anyone, the success of the project is in part due to the collaborators that he has assembled, originally for a 2011 gig at the Oslo Jazz Festival. These are no ordinary friends who just happened to stop by, they are fine musicians in their own right who crucially have a pedigree in this genre of music that lifts this above the commonplace into being one of the albums of the summer. Erik Truffaz, for example, has a distinguished discography that includes a well-regarded run of releases on Blue Note in the early part of the 21st Century such as the mighty Bending New Corners and The Walk of the Giant Turtle. Truffaz and Wesseltoft go way back of course—the Frenchman having guested on tour with New Conception of Jazz around the turn of the century. Similarly Beady Belle was originally encouraged to record for Jazzland records by Wesseltoft and has gone on to make a number of great records including personal favourites Home from 2001 and its follow up CEWBEAGAPPIC. Joaquin 'Joe' Claussell was, of course, a leading DJ of the period running and recording for the seminal New York house label Spiritual Life Music. What these fine artists have in common is the importance of soul to their work— each of them prioritises the feel of their work rather than, for example, the intellectual and technical concepts that might underlie it.
All of this makes for a perfect summer record—one to luxuriate in rather than analyse, to feel rather than think about. The sleeve riffs on this summery theme looking like a thermal imaging mirror of the Beach Boys 'Summer Days (and Nights)' cover—the main difference being that the shot, unsurprisingly, appears to conclude that the seas around Norway are much colder than in sunny Californ-i- a. First tracks to grab the attention are Belle and Torun Eriksen's two excellent vocal cuts—the breezy "Do It" is perfectly judged channelling Ingrid Mansfield Allman, singer on the Freeez classic "Southern Freeez," in a classy demonstration of how to concentrate on what the song needs rather than suffocating it with technique. If the lyrics are not going to win a Pulitzer, they do represent a positive sentiment of inclusion and friendship that is very much in keeping with the relaxed feel of the record. The second vocal track "Make It" is a moodier leftfield garage dub structured like a gospel tune but with what sounds like an improvised jazz vocal over the top. It's great in a "Like a Prayer" down the jazz club way.
If the two vocal tracks provide an accessible and enjoyable route into the album, updating soulful jazz funk for the house generation, there is plenty for the more open minded fusion fan too. Truffaz is a revelation here—returning to that 'Bitches Brew' via Eddie Henderson and Herbie Hancock's 'Mwandishi' Band sound that he used to such great effect on Bending the Corners and its ilk. Opening track "Play It" is fantastic, the sense of space between Truffaz's spiralling trumpet lines and the heavy bass line is incredibly effective. Restraint and control by the musicians is essential for this to work—Wesseltoft's stepping around the bass line in his excellent solo here being a case in point.
On "Faz It" Truffaz holds back his trumpet line just enough to allow space for the fabulous rhythm line to interact with Wesseltoft's Rhodes. Wesseltoft also excels on the slow builder "Breed It" that starts with solo piano and effects, building into something reminiscent of a Shazz piece from the F-Communications era, before culminating in a lovely descending trumpet solo from Truffaz that mirrors Marius Reksjo's wonderful bass line. In truth there are many such fine moments and each track has qualities to be appreciated. The juddering climax to "Saisir" and the sublime effects layered onto "Clauss It"'s funky bass line being but two. Each member of the collective contributes to the intricate soundscapes and dynamic energy of the project, building a good vibe around the whole endeavour.
Looks like summer's here and this wonderful record is the perfect accompaniment to the warm days and nights to come. Recommended.
Bugge Wesseltoft: grandpiano, fender rhodes, prophet5, memorymoog, programming
Erik Truffaz: trumpet, effects
Ilan Ersahin: tenor saxophone
Joaquin 'Joe' Claussell: rhythms, miscellaneous percussion & toys, effects, programming
Erik Holm: congas, shakers, logdrum, tambourine, bolumbata
Marius Reksjo: acoustic & electric bass
Andreas Bye: drums
Torun Eriksen: vocal
Beady Belle: vocal