A jazz album that brings the best out of both artists.
Which is part of what makes his collaboration with the jazz pianist Bugge Wesseltoft so fruitful. Wesseltoft is no stranger to electronic music—he was expanding the idea of big-band jazz to include crinkling techno textures as far back as 1997's New Conception Of Jazz, and remixed Thomas's song "Bobletekno" in 2016. But his stark piano chords finds their ideal home among the slowly expanding landscapes that Thomas loves to build. Their musical languages aren't identical, but they're related, and it's a pleasure to hear each of them move through this hour-long conversation.
Bugge Wesseltoft & Prins Thomas was recorded at Rainbow Studio in Oslo, where for decades the producer Jan Erik Kongshaug worked on albums by Keith Jarrett, Jack DeJohnette, and Bennie Maupin. Rainbow Studio was for many years a go-to for ECM Records, the German label known for framing complex, frosty jazz with pristine production, and Kongshaug brings that ideal to bear across the album's five tracks.
As with many ECM recordings, some of the LP's most interesting moments are its plainest. In the opener, "Furuberget," Thomas patiently places conga hits and synthesized brushes of percussion around Jon Christensen's scattering drumbeat, over which Wesseltoft's gentle piano hovers like a soft mist. Wesseltoft excels at writing short phrases—a single chord might be left to decay for a few seconds before he follows it with a brief run of notes—that would seem at odds with the bright, rounded tones forged by Thomas. But Wesseltoft's playing benefits from the propulsive sounds that totter along beside him, and his airiness gives Thomas' landscaping a sense of shadow and emotional purpose.
At times, the space between the duo seems to collapse. In "Norte Do Brasil," they're practically indistinguishable. Gently insistent analog synth rhythms interlock and braid into lines that seem to disappear as soon as they're voiced. A chirping vibraphone sets a subtle samba rhythm. On "Sin Tempo," Wesseltoft sets a rainy cluster of chords adrift while Christensen brushes his snare drum in a way that sounds like a distantly crackling fire. That fire grows in presence as the song progresses, with Wesseltoft dutifully carrying things forward until the benevolent flames seem to surround the piano on all sides.
Perhaps more than anything, Bugge Wesseltoft & Prins Thomas proves its artists are expert manipulators of time and space. Across the record, moments that at first seem unremarkable expand and become strangely emotional, even as nothing much happens. It’s a trick that was perfected by their ECM forebears, who played only what was absolutely necessary and left plenty of room for the listener to fill in on their own. Wesseltoft and Thomas draw reactions out of their audience one drop at a time, until all that empty space has been filled.