IT ONLY REQUIRES the two-minute solo Prologue to this collection of new material by Marius Neset to be reminded of that first rush of excitement, experienced just a few short years ago, when his distinct, often otherworldly saxophonic approach blew away the senses.
Through the release of his most recent solo albums – Birds, Lion and Pinball – a progressive, wider development of Neset’s compositional powers has become strikingly apparent; and now, this collaboration with the renowned London Sinfonietta and long-time jazz colleagues Ivo Neame (piano), Petter Eldh (double bass) and Anton Eger (drums) sees the Norwegian virtuoso realising what is described as his most ambitious, cherished and personal project to date.
Mainly comprising three extended works, the concept for the album was prompted by a 2013 Oslo Sinfonietta commission which Neset wrote for solo saxophone, chamber orchestra and five singers. Already possessing astonishing flair for constructing rhythmically challenging, larger-scale music (2014’s Lion was for jazz orchestra), that fifteen-minute piece spurred the saxophonist on to still greater things – the opportunity to meticulously through-compose, incorporating elements of improvisation, for the combined forces of small orchestra and his own quartet. He explains how working with the London Sinfonietta and their intuitive conductor, Geoffrey Paterson, took his ideas to another level; whilst Neame, Eldh and Eger are now so engaged with Neset’s rhythmical language that they “play it like it was the easiest thing in the world” (summoning incredulous shakes of the head from mere mortals!). Recorded in just two days, at London’s highly-regarded AIR Studios, the outcome is awe-inspiring.
Marius Neset’s contrasting, yet cohesive compositional flow is apparent in seven-movement Arches of Nature – a continuous, 25-minute suite which revels in his masterful orchestration. Appropriately chromatic and discordant, the Bartokian woodwind chatter of Sirens announces a recognisably boisterous sound world which offers a glimpse of how well Neset blends orchestra and quartet, whilst Acrobatics‘ audacious, high-wire tenor antics are heightened by rapidly swirling strings, shrill woodwind alarm, Anton Eger’s skittering percussion, and all manner of intricate details (John Orford’s babbling bassoon delightfully partnering Neset). Halting this intense animation with Janacek-style trumpet fanfare, the lofty arcs of Circles are characteristically traced by Neset’s soprano, sumptuously and emotionally filled out by swelling brass amidst its symphonic splendour; and Caves‘ jazz quartet energy is percussively accentuated by the leader’s gruff, popping tenor and remarkably fleet, exacting orchestration.
As this suite progresses, the sustained thread of Paradise showcases the many guises of Ivo Neame’s piano eloquence, his scampering bass figure especially attractive; romantically lyrical Rainbows unwinds into Getzian tenor-and-strings elegance (though there is never any doubting the saxophonist here); and impudent, showtime finale Pyramiden ripples to phantasmagorical, almost bewildering orchestration.
The Storm is Over further reveals the considered brilliance of this writing – a heavenly ‘land of Cockaigne’ which intriguingly fuses Mahlerian/Brucknerian depth and mystery with a reassuring dance-band warmth, traversed by Marius Neset’s luxurious, soaring and always affecting tenor melodies (so much detail to discover each time). And arguably the album’s main feature – introduced by another gloriously multiphonic solo sax display – Snowmelt brims with Nordic zeal as Neset’s quartet and the London Sinfonietta coalesce so immaculately. Listen closely to the the tonal balance… the orchestral weave… the rhythmic fire… the folksung inflection… the tear-inducing beauty… and, at that moment, there’s nothing creatively or heartwarmingly finer.
Marius Neset tenor and soprano saxophones
Ivo Neame piano
Petter Eldh bass
Anton Eger drums
Geoffrey Paterson conductor
Karen Jones flute, piccolo
Gareth Hulse oboe
Michael Whight clarinet, bass clarinet
John Orford bassoon
Michael Thompson horn
Torbjörn Hultmark trumpet
Byron Fulcher trombone
Jonathan Morton violin (principal 1st)
Miranda Fulleylove violin
Elizabeth Wexler violin
Joan Atherton violin (principal 2nd)
Hilaryjane Parker violin
Charlotte Reid violin
Roger Chase viola
Zoe Matthews viola
Richard Waters viola
Tim Gill cello
Adrian Bradbury cello
Markus van Horn contrabass
All music composed and arranged by Marius Neset
Produced by Marius Neset with Anton Eger
ACT Music – 9035-2 (2016)