REVIEW: ‘A New Dawn’ – Marius Neset

SAFE TO SAY, in these uncertain times, we’re all looking for that silver lining; or, in the case of acclaimed Norwegian tenor saxophonist Marius Neset, the gilt-edged promise of A New Dawn.

Over the last decade or so, Neset has produced an extraordinary catalogue of original work – a distinctive melange of contemporary jazz and Scandinavian folk – often overloading the senses with complex, dizzying arrangements for small and large forces (the latter, in 2020 big band creation, Tributes). But as we know, the pandemic’s restrictions have dramatically shifted the current artistic landscape, with numerous ‘lockdown’ recordings appearing as musicians have sought alternative ways to express their artistry and keep their craft, technique and livelihoods on track. For the saxophonist, this global situation provided the opportunity to fulfil a long-held ambition – to record an album of solo tenor explorations (some of which he had originally written for band or symphony orchestra) without overdubs or effects. He describes it as “an amazing challenge – and also a bit scary: I cannot lean back on a rhythm section or another player, I am completely responsible for every little detail in the music myself”.

The proposition of a single horn player presenting an entire recording of solo material may not, initially, seem entirely tantalising. But those who can cast their mind back to 2011 debut Golden Xplosion – and his astounding live sets – will know that ‘unaccompanied’ in Neset’s world is anything but. Captured earlier this year, A New Dawn celebrates those extraordinary (dare it be said, unique) capabilities which naturally, over time, have been developed and honed into the bewildering wonder heard across these nine self-composed tracks. It’s an engaging display of melodic, rhythmic and chordal prowess – ‘chordal’, because Neset’s signature wizardry in stating or implying key signatures and progressions, through agile employment of ‘arpeggioed’ phrases and harmonics, is pivotal to this album’s success.

Those attributes can clearly be heard in the opening title track, where melodic phrases (in thirds, including bass line!) push it towards pop ballad territory, though also including Neset’s seemingly effortless improvisations. Theme from Manmade crackles like popcorn, its complex, bopping structure unfathomable in terms of such deft execution, and with the snatched breathing and rapidity of key clicks clearly audible. Taste of Spring unfurls, fern-like, in the lower registers before gradually climbing towards the sun with preening optimism and astonishing fluidity. In that vein, folk dance Brighter Times creates wondrous, gruff chordal sequences from harmonics, even hinting at a bluesy, Caribbean vibe; and with such richness, it’s easy to envisage one of Neset’s sumptuous big band arrangements piling in, midway.

Two numbers from that decade-old golden debut (with Django Bates, Jasper Høiby and Anton Eger) are reinterpreted. Old Poison (XL) rises from its impudent, slow beginnings (including a sneaky “look at me” at 0:38) into an audicious, mesmeric climax whose transcription would no doubt be mindblowing to view. Equally impertinent, groove-chasing The Real Ysj squeaks and rollercoasters at a hair-raising tempo. Back nearer terra firma, chirpy folksong A Day in the Sparrow’s Life is another ‘self-accompanied’ delight, its suggested verse-and-chorus structure pausing for contemplation before one of Neset’s most scintillating full-band impressions. Morning Mist’s murky trudge is shot through with shrill tenor wails and screams, but amidst it all is also the most beautifully wistful descending figure; and alpenhorn-hued multiphonics herald Theme from Every Little Step, a near-seven-minute paean reminiscent of Neset’s sublime work with tubist Daniel Herskedal, his mind wandering free.

Describing the “beautiful, sunny and very cold winter day” on which this recording was created, in a studio close to his Oslo home – while also contemplating the good and simple things in life: walking, running, skiing and being with family – Marius Neset’s solitary performances look ahead to brighter days. The spirit and grace of A New Dawn can point us in that direction, too.

Released on 30 April 2021 and available from ACT Music.

 

Marius Neset tenor saxophone, compositions

mariusneset.info

ACT Music – 9930-2 (2021)

REVIEW: ‘The New Cool’ – David Helbock

DAVID HELBOCK is clearly a guy who is difficult to pigeonhole, his Random Control Trio project, for example, often involving a complex array of instruments on stage to present his own music and almost comedic reinterpretations at the edge of unpredictability.

Read my full review at LondonJazz News…

Released on 26 March 2021 and available in CD and vinyl formats at ACT Music.

 

David Helbock piano
Sebastian Studnitzky trumpet
Arne Jansen guitar

Cover art: Violet Blue Monk – Ugo Rondinone, painted cast bronze, 2020

davidhelbock.com

ACT Music – 9927-2 (2021)

REVIEW: ‘Christmas With My Friends VII’ – Nils Landgren

NO ONE could have imagined, when this project first began in a Swedish medieval church in December 2005, what a poignancy its title would bring some fifteen years later. For alongside the observance and festivity of the Christmas season, this year we may also be remembering those lost to a global pandemic, as well as family and friends with whom we cannot yet get together. But amidst all of this, Nils Landgren and colleagues have chosen to continue their reassuringly familiar and easy-going brand of schmaltz, tenderness, joy and reflection in Christmas With My Friends VII.

Following the previous six volumes (including IV and V), Landgren is again joined by singers Sharon Dyall, Jeanette Köhn and Jessica Pilnäs, while Ida Sand (vocals, piano), Jonas Knutsson (saxophones), Eva Kruse (bass) and Johan Norberg (guitar, mandolin) provide the distinctive ambient glow. At the suggestion of ACT Music label owner Siggi Loch, the trombonist and vocalist has cast the net wider in terms of garnering fourteen songs from around the world, their listed countries of origin connecting us through the best and, indeed, the worst of times.

Credited with shaping the album’s eclectic sequence, Swedish guitarist Johan Norberg provides acapella introduction This Christmas, whose theme of joy and hope is continued in Comin’ Home For Christmas, Jonas Knutsson’s soprano sax embellishing its easy pop/folk groove. Franz Schubert’s Ave Maria is given a balladic, almost 1950s rock‘n’roll lilt through its vocal harmonies and Landgren’s signature trombone smoothness; and traditional Irish carol This Endris Night is bathed in gentle, shimmering light.

The predictable melody and chord sequence of Russian song The Forest Raised A Christmas Tree, in this arrangement, has a whiff of soft American folk/rock; but forgettable US soul/pop tune Just Another Christmas Song feels a touch too shallow for this collection, a ‘cheeseboard’ crammed with as many festive song lines or titles as possible! Back on track, delicate Polish lullaby of the nativity, Gdy süliczna Panna, has far greater charm, particularly for its memorable chorus; and in a swift change of mood, joyful, harmonized South African chant Sizalelwe Indodana (Unto Us A Son Is Born) features a delightful baritone sax and trombone break.

Sweet Was the Song begins a sequence of candlelit intimacy that harks back to the project’s humble but special beginnings – there’s something so wonderfully spatial about the blend of instrumentation and vocalisation in these pieces. For example, Ingibjörg Þorbergs’ simple Icelandic tune Hin fyrstu jól (The First Christmas) is attractively stated then improvised upon by a gallery quartet of mandolin, double bass, soprano sax and trombone; and Benjamin Britten’s processional Hodie Christus (from ‘A Ceremony of Carols’) becomes exalted through an expectant, sky-filled plainchant-and-horn annunciation – a beautiful, crisp atmosphere.

This sense of tradition continues in tender Finnish carol Sylvian Joululaulu – Knutsson’s soft, subtly gruff sax tone is always a pleasure to hear, complementing the clear vocal. En förtvivlad vän offers a similar aura of calm before the concluding ensemble greeting of José Feliciano’s Feliz Navidad is extended with gentle, fireside warmth.

Christmas 2020’s celebrations will need some alternative imagination on our part. But the unswerving feel-good of Nils Landgren and friends this yuletide, and in years to come, offers us some semblance of peace and cheer. ‘Gud välsigna oss alla’.

Released on 10 October 2020 and available in CD and vinyl formats at ACT Music.

 

Nils Landgren trombone, vocals
Sharon Dyall vocals
Jonas Knutsson saxophones
Jeanette Köhn vocals
Eva Kruse bass
Jessica Pilnäs vocals
Ida Sand vocals, piano
Johan Norberg guitar, mandolin

nilslandgren.com

ACT Music – ACT 9916-2 (2020)

RECENT LISTENING: October 2020 (2)

‘Between The Lines’ – Steve Hamilton
Steve Hamilton, Martin Taylor, Don Paterson, Paul Booth, Davie Dunsmuir
Release date: 21 August 2020
stevehamilton.bandcamp.com

‘The Monk Watches The Eagle’ – Keith Tippett
Keith Tippett, Julie Tippetts, Paul Dunmall, Kevin Figes, Ben Waghorn, Chris Biscoe, Tim Redpath, Rob Buckland, Andy Scott, David Roach, BBC Singers
Release date: 23 September 2020 (BBC recording released under licence by Discus Music)
discusmusic.bandcamp.com

‘Mondenkind’ – Michael Wollny
Michael Wollny – solo piano
Release date: 25 September 2020 (ACT Music)
actmusic.com

‘Gecko’ – Tom Smith
Tom Smith, Will Barry, Jonny Mansfield
Release date: 6 November 2020 (Basho Records)
tomsmithsax.bandcamp.com

REVIEW: ‘Tributes’ – Marius Neset

IT’S ALMOST TEN YEARS since Marius Neset’s ‘Golden Xplosion’ onto the European jazz scene with his debut album of that name, on the Edition Records label. Since then, this master of remarkable saxophonic technique has forged a prolific career, recording an impressive series of albums (most of them reviewed at this site). Neset describes latest ACT Music release, Tributes, as marking “a new phase”…

Read my full review at LondonJazz News…

Released on 25 September 2020 and available from ACT Music.

 

Marius Neset tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, compositions/arrangements

DANISH RADIO BIG BAND, conducted by Miho Hazama
Erik Eilertsen trumpet
Lars Vissing trumpet
Thomas Kjærgaard trumpet
Gerard Presencer trumpet (solo on Children’s Day Part 2)
Mads la Cour trumpet (solo on Leaving The Dock)
Peter Fuglsang alto saxophone, soprano saxophone, flute, clarinet
Nicolai Schultz alto saxophone, flute
Hans Ulrik tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, bass clarinet (solo on Tribute)
Frederick Menzies tenor saxophone, clarinet (solo on Children’s Day Part 1)
Anders Gaardmand baritone saxophone (solo on Children’s Day Part 1)
Peter Dahlgren trombone (solo on Bicycle Town Part 1)
Vincent Nilsson trombone
Kevin Christensen trombone
Annette Saxe bass trombone
Jakob Munck Mortensen bass trombone, tuba
Per Gade guitar (solo on Children’s Day Part 1)
Henrik Gunde piano (solo on Leaving The Dock)
Kaspar Vadsholt double bass, electric bass
Søren Frost drums

mariusneset.info

ACT Music – ACT 9051-2 (2020)

TOP 12 OF 2019

HOW DOES ONE BEGIN to compile a ‘best of year’ list from the wealth and diversity of new releases out there?! Well, appreciation of music is, of course, entirely subjective. But during 2019, amongst all of the jazz and jazz-related albums I have written for or about, or have been privileged to simply receive an invitation to hear, these twelve (in no particular order) have been revisited the most frequently. All are heartily recommended, with info/links below. 

Here’s to a great new year – and decade – of musical discovery!

🎹 AP

Fred Hersch & The WDR Big Band – Begin Again
Fred Hersch, The WDR Big Band, arranged and conducted by Vince Mendoza
Release date: 7 June 2019 (Palmetto Records)
Available from: propermusic.com/fredhersch/beginagain

Kate Williams’ Four Plus Three meets Georgia Mancio – Finding Home
Kate Williams, Georgia Mancio, John Garner, Marie Schreer, Francis Gallagher, Sergio Serra, Oli Hayhurst, David Ingamells, John Williams
Release date: 1 June 2019 (KW Jazz)
Review: ap-reviews.com/findinghome
Available from: katewilliams.bandcamp.com/findinghome or georgiamancio.com/findinghome

Ingi Bjarni – Tenging
Ingi Bjarni Skúlason, Jakob Eri Myhre, Merje Kägu, Daniel Andersson, Tore Ljøkelsøy
Release date: 30 August 2019 (Losen Records)
Available from: losenrecords.no/tenging

Chick Corea, Christian McBride, Brian Blade – Trilogy 2
Chick Corea, Christian McBride, Brian Blade
Release date: 18 October 2019 (Concord Jazz)
Available from: propermusic.com/chickcorea/trilogy2

Rymden Reflections & Odysseys
Bugge Wesseltoft, Dan Berglund, Magnus Öström
Release date: 8 February 2019 (Jazzland Records)
Review: ap-reviews.com/rymden
Available from: rymden3.bandcamp.com/reflections&odysseys

Mark Lockheart and Roger Sayer – Salvator Mundi
Mark Lockheart, Roger Sayer
Release date: 5 July 2019 (Edition Records)
Review: ap-reviews.com/salvatormundi
Available from: marklockheart.bandcamp.com/salvatormundi

Michael Janisch – Worlds Collide
Michael Janisch, Jason Palmer, John O’Gallagher, Rez Abbasi, Clarence Penn
with John Escreet, George Crowley, Andrew Bain

Release date: 6 September 2019 (Whirlwind Recordings)
Available from: michaeljanisch.bandcamp.com/worldscollide

Saxophone Summit – Street Talk
Dave Liebman, Joe Lovano, Greg Osby, Billy Hart, Phil Markowitz, Cecil McBee
Release date: 4 October 2019 (Enja Records)
Review: ap-reviews.com/streettalk
Available from: propermusic.com/streettalk

Trish Clowes – Ninety Degrees Gravity
Trish Clowes, Chris Montague, Ross Stanley, James Maddren
Release date: 26 April 2019 (Basho Records)
Available from: bashorecords.com/ninetydegreesgravity

Scott Kinsey – We Speak Luniwaz (The music of Joe Zawinul)
Scott Kinsey, Katise Buckingham, Hadrien Feraud, Gergo Borlai with Bobby Thomas Jr, Arto Tunçboyaciyan, Steve Tavaglione, Jimmy Haslip, Michael Baker, Danny Carey, Cyril Atef, Brad Dutz, Naina Kundu
Release date: 25 October 2019 (Whirlwind Recordings)
Available from: scott-kinsey.bandcamp.com/wespeakluniwaz

Huw Warren Trio – Everything In Between
Huw Warren, Dudley Phillips, Zoot Warren
Release date: 15 March 2019 (CAM JAZZ)
Review: ap-reviews.com/everythinginbetween
Available from: camjazz.com/everythinginbetween

e.s.t. – e.s.t. live in Gothenburg
Esbjörn Svensson, Dan Berglund, Magnus Öström
Release date: 25 October 2019 (ACT Music)
Review: ap-reviews.com/estliveingothenburg
Available from: actmusic.com/estliveingothenburg