by Ian Mann
April 08, 2013
A grandly ambitious work that succeeds superbly thanks to both the brilliance of the writing and arranging but also the phenomenal playing of a truly outstanding ensemble.
(Edition Records EDN1010)
The young Norwegian saxophonist and composer Marius Neset made a huge impact with the release of his 2011 Edition Records album “Golden Xplosion”. Neset’s label début was a busy record much influenced by the UK’s own Django Bates who had tutored Neset during his (Bates)) tenure as professor at the Rhythmic Music Conservatoire in Copenhagen and invited Neset to be part of his StoRMChaser big band. Neset returned the compliment on “Golden Xplosion” where Bates guested on piano, keyboards and tenor horn alongside Danish bassist Jasper Hoiby and Swedish drummer Anton Eger.
The Golden Xplosion quartet received almost unanimous acclaim for the quality of their wildly exciting live performances (with either Nick Ramm or Ivo Neame deputising for Bates) and Neset developed a sizeable following (in jazz terms) in the UK thus ensuring that “Birds” is one of the most keenly awaited releases of the current year.
However Neset’s immediate follow up to “Golden Xplosion” presented a totally unexpected change of direction. Together with his compatriot, tuba player Daniel Herskedal, Neset released “Neck of the Woods” (2012, also Edition), an album of gentle duets, many of which explored Norwegian folk themes. This was a stunningly beautiful record that was as spacious and rarefied as it’s predecessor was dense and busy. Although it could be argued that this was primarily Herskedal’s record the album presented a wholly different side of Neset’s playing. A wholly acoustic live performance by the duo at Dempsey’s in Cardiff was one of the most extraordinary shows I witnessed last year and offered ample demonstration of Neset’s remarkable versatility and awesome technical prowess.
“Birds” brings together both facets of his ability. Although ostensibly the follow up to “Golden Xplosion” there is greater balance of light and shade with Neset’s writing again drawing on folk forms and also exhibiting the influence of classical composers. Once again the line-up is an all star Anglo Scandinavian affair with Neset joined by a core quintet featuring Hoiby, Eger and Neame (i.e. label mates Phronesis in all but name) plus British vibes wizard Jim Hart. Additional musicians include Herskedal on tuba, Marius’ sister Ingrid Neset on flute and piccolo flute, Bjarke Mogensen on accordion, the twin trumpets of Tobias Wiklund and Ronny Farsund, Peter Jensen on trombone and finally Lasse Mauritzen on French horn. Much of the music is rigorously composed but Neset also allows his star jazz players room to stretch out, the results are a fascinating blend of freedom and discipline with some characteristically brilliant playing all round.
The title track follows on from the first album, a dense and busy affair that grows out of a morse code like vamp and which features Mogensen on accordion, a nod towards Neset’s growing fascination with folk music. There’s some terrific interplay between the various instruments in an extended line up on a piece that owes a substantial debt to Django Bates and ends up sounding like a cross between Bates’ small group Human Chain and his larger ensembles Delightful Precipice and StoRMChaser . It’s a thrilling start with some terrific playing, not least from Neset himself on a spiky and impassioned tenor solo and there’s a final twist with a chamber like coda featuring Ingrid Neset on flute. Despite the Bates influence here it’s probably fair to say that the album as a whole reveals Neset transcending the sum of his influences and beginning to create a genuinely individual voice.
The semi classical feel is carried over into the shimmering atmospherics of “Reprise” where rich brass textures are overlaid by interjections from Neset’s tenor. The piece climaxes with an unexpectedly discordant finale that suggests the influence of The Beatles’ “A Day In The Life”.
“Boxing” begins with an appropriately punchy solo sax motif before moving on to encompass a set of fiercely complex, bristling rhythmic exchanges featuring vibes, drums and bass alongside sampled snatches of boxing commentary. It’s intense and uncompromising and sounds like the work of a New York “Downtown” band. Hart’s vibes solo introduces a more openly melodic element and the juxtaposition of the two styles fascinates throughout. Many of Neset’s pieces appear to pull in more than one direction simultaneously and it’s a process that keeps the listener fully engaged and the musicians on their toes. It’s an exciting if sometimes disorientating listening experience.
“Portugese Windmill” begins as a ballad with Neset adopting a softer tenor tone above Neame’s sparse piano chording and Hoiby’s richly resonant bass undertow. However the military clatter of Eger’s drums soon helps to move the song into livelier territory, the core group negotiating the dizzying twists and turns of Neset’s writing with typical skill and élan before the piece is resolved by coming full circle with a gently lyrical coda.
“Spring Dance” opens with a delightful duet between Marius on tenor and sister Ingrid on flute. It’s a lively folk dance with the brilliantly intricate playing of the Neset siblings given even greater impetus by the promptings of Eger’s drums.
Ingrid’s flute also features in the ensemble on “Fields Of Clubs” but it’s the dialogue between Marius and Hoiby that really fascinates with co-writer Eger providing comment and punctuation. The piece also offers some dazzling ensemble passages and a typically inventive Hart solo as Neset briefly takes a step back.
The piece segues into the more impressionistic and pastoral “The Place Of Welcome”, also co-written with Eger, a place of eerily shimmering textured vibes and cogent solos from Hoiby on plucked double bass and Neset on understated soprano.
The lyrical mood is sustained on “Introduction To Sacred Universe” with Neame’s delicate and thoughtful piano leading the way. “Sacred Universe” itself seems to develop in movements and again features Neset’s soprano sax alongside Hoiby’s double bass before gradually taking on a wide screen magnificence seemingly climaxed by a soaring Neset tenor solo. However yet again there’s an unexpected but thoroughly beautiful coda, proof that much of Neset’s writing is almost orchestral in its ambition.
It’s also true that much of Neset’s work has a strong cinematic quality and none more so than “Math Of Mars” which features old friend Herskedal alongside Hart’s twinkling looped vibes. There’s a real sense of grandeur about the writing and arranging here that hints at the influence of prog rock as well as established classical composers (Stravinsky, Ives and Reich are mentioned as influences, jazz names include Django Bates, Wayne Shorter and Michael Brecker).
It may seem perverse to end an album with a “Fanfare” but Neset’s is a typically epic affair that builds from Eger’s drums via Ingrid Neset’s folky flute and Herskedal’s tuba rumblings to a massed
ensemble sound. What at first sounded like a jolly throwaway acquires real substance and climaxes the album in stirring fashion.
Even more ambitious than “Golden Xplosion” the magnificent “Birds” looks set to enhance Neset’s reputation yet further. It’s a grandly ambitious work that succeeds superbly thanks to both the brilliance of the writing and arranging but also the phenomenal playing of a truly outstanding ensemble. Neset’s own playing, particularly on tenor, is a constant tour de force, he’s got the chops, he’s got the ideas and he’s even got the looks. This is an album that should boost his star credentials internationally and he should find himself playing to full houses on an upcoming UK tour that is quickly followed by a string of appearances around Europe.
Neset’s music is so busy that it’s not always easy to describe and some listeners may find his music a bit “too much” or just plain baffling. However most audiences seem to have been blown away by him (in a good way) and I’d wager that “Birds” will win him a new flock of adventurous and eager listeners. I’m looking forward to seeing him perform this music live at the 2012 Cheltenham Jazz Festival. Full tour dates are shown below. More information at http://www.mariusneset.com
MARIUS NESET BIRDS TOUR DATES 2013:
17/04/2013 - Barnstaple - North Devon Festival - UK
21/04/2013 - Cambridge - Cambridge Modern Jazz Club - UK
22/04/2013 - London - Pizza Express Jazz Club - UK
23/04/2013 - London - Pizza Express Jazz Club - UK
24/04/2013 - Halifax - Dean Clough - UK
25/04/2013 - Manchester - Band on the Wall - UK
26/04/2013 - Liverpool - Capstone Theatre - UK
27/04/2013 - Clitheroe - Grand Theatre - UK
01/05/2013 - Birmingham - MAC Arts - UK
02/05/2013 - Bristol - St George’s Hall - UK
03/05/2013 - Cheltenham - Cheltenham Jazz Festival - UK
04/05/2013 - Brighton Festival, Brighton, UK
08/05/2013 - Wien - Porgy & Bess - Austria
10/05/2013 - M?nchen - Unterfahrt - Germany
11/05/2013 - Maijazz, Stavanger - Norway
15/05/2013 - Amsterdam - BimHuis - NL
22/05/2013 - Bix Jazzclub, Stuttgart - Germany
24/05/2013 - Elb Jazz Festival, Hamburg - Germany
28/05/2013 - Festspillene, Bergen - Norway
05/07/2013 - Stuttgart Jazz Festival - Germany
04/08/2013 - Frankfurt - Germany
18/08/2013 - Nisville Festival, Nis - Serbia
08/11/2013 - Gottingen Festival, Germany
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