by Ian Mann
May 07, 2013
Neset is a star in the making, a remarkably consistent and hard working performer who seems to have the drive to match his undoubted musical talents.
Marius Neset Quartet, Parabola Arts Centre, Cheltenham, 03/05/2013 (part of Cheltenham Jazz Festival).
The young Norwegian saxophonist and composer exploded into the consciousness of the British jazz listening public with the release of “Golden Xplosion”, his début for the increasingly influential Edition record label. The almost unanimous critical acclaim for the album (five stars from John Fordham in The Guardian) was followed by a series of British gigs that saw Neset and his quartet wowing audiences up and down the country ( a review of their show at The Edge Arts Centre in Much Wenlock appears elsewhere on this site).
If “Golden Xplosion” served notice of the arrival of a phenomenal talent then the recent follow up, “Birds”, offered confirmation that Neset is here to stay. The saxophonist’s second album for Edition is an even more ambitious affair that adds folk and classical influences to Neset’s busy sound. The playing is as dazzling as ever but the writing suggests an even greater maturity. Once again reviews have been almost overwhelmingly positive.
Given his formidable reputation it’s perhaps not too surprising that the Parabola Arts Centre was virtually sold out for this concert featuring album personnel Ivo Neame (piano) and Anton Eger (drums) with Petter Eldh standing in on bass for his compatriot Jasper Hoiby. “Birds” also features British vibraphonist Jim Hart plus a number of additional musicians but the quartet always seems to be Neset’s configuration of choice (borne perhaps, of economic necessity) for live work. This awesome foursome certainly didn’t disappoint.
Introduced by Cheltenham Jazz Festival’s artistic director Tony Dudley Evans the Neset quartet quickly took flight with the title track of the “Birds” album with Neset on soprano sax combining with Neame on the intro, the pianist replicating the melody played by accordionist Bjarke Mogensen on the recorded version. The odd meter swing that pervaded the rest of the track owed something to the style of Django Bates, Neset’s one time tutor at the Rhythmic Music Conservatory in Copenhagen. In the absence of the additional horns to be heard on the album Neset delivered a soprano solo of extraordinary power and inventiveness, as somebody behind me remarked “I’ve never heard a soprano played so fast!”
When Neset switched to tenor he was equally impressive, his solos fluent and inventive and imbued with just the right degree of showmanship, particularly on his impassioned exchanges with Swedish drummer Anton Eger, a similarly flamboyant character. Neset is a brilliant technician but there’s always a high degree of musical intelligence behind his dazzling displays of instrumental prowess. He’s an ambitious composer with an increasingly individual voice as typified by “Portugese Windmill” which evolved from a soft and tender tenor ballad featuring Eger on subtly brushed grooves into a furiously bustling soprano led dance and back again with thrillingly invigorating solos from Neset and Neame along the way.
From “Golden Xplosion” the solo tenor saxophone feature “Saxophone Intermezzo” was a miracle of both musical inventiveness and physical resourcefulness with Neset making use of extended techniques such as overblowing and manipulating the instrument’s keys as a kind of auxiliary percussion. He also showed that he’s not averse to making subtle use of modern technology with his judicious use of echo effects.
Neset announced “Boxing” (from “Birds”) as an “aggressive tune” and certainly the music had something of the ducking and diving, bobbing and weaving qualities of the ring with Eger and Eldh indulging in some spiky rhythmic interplay in between bouts of the leader’s pugnacious tenor sax and Neame’s appropriately percussive piano. The piece climaxed with a series of explosive breaks from Eger, the Phronesis drummer is a great showman with a highly personalised style. He was in great form tonight but arguably his drums were a little too low in the mix, he certainly had to work hard to make himself fully heard.
As well as being impressed by Eger (as usual) I also enjoyed the contribution made by Petter Eldh whom I last witnessed at Cheltenham a couple of years ago as a member of Django Bates “Beloved Bird” trio. Neset, Eldh and Eger all played in Bates large ensemble StoRMChaser and the three musicians clearly maintain a good understanding with Eldh and Eger forming a hugely effective rhythm team. Eldh’s timing is exemplary, a must in a group that plays music as complex as Neset’s, and when called upon he’s also a convincing soloist, particularly when playing in a high register up around the bridge of his instrument.
The quietly spoken Ivo Neame also impressed, although less obviously extrovert than either neset or Eger the Englishman is nonetheless a hugely inventive soloist with a keen sense of musical adventure. Modest but supremely talented he’s a vital presence in all the groups he plays with ranging from the intellectualism of his own densely knit ensembles to the lyricism of Kairos 4tet to the wide open spaces and improvisational bravura of Phronesis.
Not every tune tonight was announced, hence this is no blow by blow account, but one got the impression that Neset just wanted to get on with playing. For all the abilities of his colleagues there was no doubting who was in charge as Neset held his audience spellbound courtesy of his busy, ambitious writing and truly astonishing technique on both tenor and soprano saxophones. He wound up tonight’s show by revisiting the title track of “Golden Xplosion”, a tour de force featuring turbulent solos from Neset and Neame plus the saxophonist’s use of a foot pedal to trigger looping and layering effects that resulted in an almost choral effect of massed saxophones. This was then trumped by a feverish, boppish coda that featured scintillating dialogue between those two irrepressible showmen Neset and Eger.
The thunderous reception to these instrumental pyrotechnics from a packed PAC audience ensured that an encore was inevitable, the similarly epic “Angel Of The North” from the same album. Introduced by Neame at the piano the piece represents Neset’s nod to the compositional techniques of Pat Metheny and also features the saxophonist sounding like his compatriot Jan Garbarek for pretty much the only time. Neset has pretty much absorbed the influence of Garbarek and Michael Brecker to come up with something of his own as he demonstrated here whilst moving between soprano and tenor either side of a further solo from the impressive Eldh.
Immediately after the gig Neset was out in the foyer chatting to fans and doing the whole “meet and greet” thing. The man’s energy is boundless and I don’t doubt that the albums were flying off the shelves. This was a terrific performance by the quartet, and particularly by the leader, and if other reviews are anything to go by Neset is capable of this level of performance every night. He’s a remarkably consistent and hard working performer who seems to have the drive to match his undoubted musical talents. Neset is a star in the making and I envisage him returning to Cheltenham and headlining in a larger venue. In the meantime anybody who saw this show at this delightfully intimate venue witnessed a real treat, a standing ovation, the first of several at the PAC over the course of the festival weekend, was testament to that.