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20 October, 2013  ▪  The Ukrainian Week

Don’t Wake the Neighbours

Norwegian pianist Bugge Wesseltoft combines grand piano and electronic effects at a concert in Kyiv

To really get the essense of a musician, you have to listen to him play alone without any special effects or the accompaniment of the band he plays on stage with. This is the most effective way, although many find it disappointing. Last weekend, Norwegian pianist Bugge Wesseltoft played a solo concert at the Tchaikovsky Music Academy – the conservatory in the heart of Kyiv. There was no room for disappointment that night.

Lately, Bugge has been coming to Ukraine more often than others. Last year he played a concert with a Norwegian band and American vibraphonist Mike Mainieri at the annual Jazz festival in Kyiv, which this year, is scheduled for October 26. He then performed at the Alfa Jazz Fest in Lviv. This time, he’s playing in Odesa and Kyiv.

In fact, it is high time this man is seen by everyone: Bugge is more legendary than most music fans can imagine. His name is already in encyclopedias of the future. The Bugge Jazzland label is widely referred to as the “next step” from the landmark ECM Records in mixing jazz and club music.

Before the concert, you dress nicely and spend more time in front of the mirror than you usually do when preparing to go to a public event. When you sit in the soft red chair of the Kyiv conservatory for Bugge’s solo performance, you can’t help but feel as if you are at home, in a comfy robe. Bugge played most of his concert as if it was 5 a.m. and he didn’t want to wake his neighbours. For the deep low notes his grand piano purred like the Cheshire Cat. The drive was palpable in the tiniest details and pauses one could barely catch. His jazz standards sounded more like sets of tools in the spirit of the father of minimalism, Erik Satie, impressionist Claude Debussy, and the legend of Norwegian music, Edvard Grieg. Except for a few passages, Wesseltoft’s improvisation was restrained, matching the overall atmosphere of his performance.

READ ALSO: Learn to Listen to Yourself

Bugge then turned on his iPad and the gadget suddenly changed the sound of the grand piano. Then, he turned to his laptop and a range of other electronic gadgets around it. For the next twenty minutes or so, the musician and composer turned into a DJ, nothing at all like Debussy or Grieg. “I was so afraid to play with electronic devices…What would the audience think?” he said at end of the concert. But it’s hard to imagine Wesseltoft without electronics. Gadgets are his other self. After a standing ovation, he returned to the stage to play Henry Mancini’s Moon River from Breakfast at Tiffany’s. That was where all the above mentioned composers returned to his music, along with the atmosphere of the good old home robe.

Wesseltoft does not have a degree in music. He started playing music at the age of three, tried to get a degree twice but never did. When asked how this happened, he replies: “Nobody ever forced me to do anything. Not even my father (a jazz guitarist – Ed.).” Bugge is exceptional in this because in our time, even punk rockers have college degrees in music. He is just a talented guy with a bunch of deeper contexts and skillful hands. By the way, Bugge played in a punk band in his youth.


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