REVIEW: ‘Tenacity’ – Django Bates

TRULY A MAVERICK PIANIST, multi-instrumentalist, composer and educator in the world of contemporary jazz (Loose Tubes, Bill Bruford’s Earthworks, etc.), Django Bates has long been turning the traditional concept of ‘piano trio’ on its head in his Belovèd ensemble with bassist Petter Eldh and drummer Peter Bruun – so compelling to watch, in concert. Two superb albums – 2010’s Belovéd Bird and 2012’s Confirmation – demonstrated a continuing breadth of invention; the former, in particular, emphasizing his deep affinity with childhood hero Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker.

For those drawn to numeric tidiness, this year marks Bates’ 60th birthday, his 40th year as a professional musician, and the 100th anniversary of Parker’s birth. So a celebration of the ‘200’ seems entirely appropriate – and new album Tenacity sees the trio joining forces with the astonishingly adept, 14-piece Norrbotten Big Band (NBB). A number of arrangements of tracks from the aforementioned albums are included, interpreted on a grander scale, alongside original compositions such as twelve-minute sensory overload, The Study of Touch (the title track of his 2017 ECM album) which was commissioned by the NBB. The trio “travelled to the Arctic Circle” (Sweden) to record the album with them because, Django declares, “…any band who’s brave enough to ask me to write for them, gets the gig!”

That mutual spirit of adventure, impressively conveyed through Nick White’s detailed ‘craggy summit’ cover imagery, is explored with immense imagination. Bates stops at nothing to achieve a different take on ‘big band’, his studio wizardry manipulating the NBB’s prowess with aplomb; and both Eldh and Bruun maintain their key positions as creative alchemists and rhythm-makers.

The leader’s hallmarks of manically prancing energy, playful rallentandos and accelerandos, plus wonderfully detuned piano/synth, are ever present, and heard in uproarious takes on Parker’s Ah Leu Cha and Donna Lee – the latter, a particular stand-out. David Raksin’s Laura (from the 1940s movie) is both sumptuous and madcap, imbued with close-harmony horns and elegant piano, then unexpected electronic squiggles and squawks. But amidst all of this, the integrity of Bates’ pianism is never in doubt, rolling breathlessly through the intricate transformation of Bird’s Confirmation; and lush Star Eyes, with characteristic upward glissandi and twinkles, is ornamented more subtly by the big band, the electric guitar textures of Markus Pesonen in particular adding to its distant otherworldliness. Throughout, the ability to dramatically scale-up and further colorize previous compositions/reimaginings such as We Are Not Lost, We Are Simply Finding Our Way and My Little Suede Shoes is simply magnificent – and applause is due to the NBB for their technique and focus!

Overflowing with invention and verve, Tenacity is an album of continual discovery. Django Bates describes the title (and title track) as a suggestion for his audience: “Please hang on in there, the reward is not a spoonful of honey but it should be profound and lasting”. It’s certainly that, and also has me reaching for those trio albums to try to grasp a little of the thought process behind some of these opulent big band arrangements. “Best of luck with that”, went up the cry!

Released on 2 October 2020 and available from Proper Music.

 

BELOVÈD
Django Bates piano, vox
Petter Eldh double bass, vox
Peter Bruun drums, vox

NORRBOTTEN BIG BAND
Håkan Broström soprano sax
Jan Thelin clarinets
Mats Garberg flutes
Karl-Martin Almqvist tenor sax, clarinet
Per Moberg baritone sax
Bo Strandberg trumpet 1
Magnus Ekholm trumpet
Dan Johansson trumpet
Jacek Onuszkiewich trumpet
Peter Dahlgren trombone 1
Ashley Slater trombone
Björn Hängsel bass trombone
Daniel Herskedal tuba
Markus Pesonen electric guitar

djangobates.co.uk

Lost Marble – LM009 (2020)

RECENT LISTENING: November 2019

Silent Fires – Forests
Karoline Wallace, Hilde Marie Holsen, Håkon Aase, Alessandro Sgobbio
Release date: 6 December 2019 (AMP Music & Records)
silentfires.com

Marius Neset, London Sinfonietta – Viaduct
Marius Neset, Ivo Neame, Jim Hart, Petter Eldh, Anton Eger,
London Sinfonietta conducted by Geoffrey Paterson

Release date: 22 November 2019 (ACT Music)
actmusic.com/en/Artists/Marius-Neset/Viaduct/Viaduct-CD

Harish Raghavan – Calls For Action
Harish Raghavan, Joel Ross, Kweku Sumbry, Micah Thomas, Immanuel Wilkins
Release date: 8 November 2019 (Whirlwind Recordings)
harishraghavan.bandcamp.com/album/calls-for-action

Abekejser – Floating Through The Universe
Jon Døssingen, Jeppe Lavsen, Frederik Emil Bülow, Rasmus Fisker Pedersen
Release date: 12 October 2019 (AMP Music & Records)
abekejser.comampmusicrecords.com

Gunnar Halle – Halle’s Planet
Gunnar Halle, Stephan Sieben, Putte Johander, Knut Finsrud, Weile Holte
Release date: 1 November 2019
gunnarhalle.com

Platimo – Platimo
Benjamin Hidas, Felix Bertulis-Webb, Marcus Cain, Alasdair Pennington
Release date: 10–17 November 2019
platimomusic.com

RECENT LISTENING: October 2019 (2)

Sirkis/Bialas IQ – Our New Earth (2CD)
Asaf Sirkis, Sylwia Bialas, Frank Harrison, Kevin Glasgow
Release date: 2 October 2019 (MoonJune Records)
asafsirkis-moonjune.bandcamp.com/album/our-new-earth-hd

The Bad Plus – Activate Infinity
Reid Anderson, Orrin Evans, Dave King
Release date: 25 October 2019 (Edition Records)
thebadplus.bandcamp.com/album/activate-infinity

Bill Laurance & WDR Big Band – Live at the Philharmonie Cologne
Bill Laurance, WDR Big Band conducted by Bob Mintzer
Release date: 8 November 2019 (Jazzline)
propermusic.com/catalog/product/view/id/95057/s/d77074-live-at-the-philharmonie-cologne/

Blicher Hemmer Gadd – Get That Motor Runnin’
Michael Blicher, Dan Hemmer, Steve Gadd with guest Paul Carrack
Release date: 1 November 2019 (C-Nut Records)
michaelblicher.bandcamp.com/album/get-that-motor-runnin

Alison Rayner Quintet (ARQ) – Short Stories
Steve Lodder, Deirdre Cartwright, Alison Rayner, Buster Birch, Diane McLoughlin
Release date: 25 October 2019 (Blow the Fuse Music)
alisonrayner.com/albums/short-stories/

Jim Beard / Jon Herington – Chunks and Chairknobs
Jim Beard, Jon Herington
Release date: 15 November 2019 (Jazzline)
propermusic.com/catalog/product/view/id/95063/s/d77069-chunks-chairknobs/category/61846/

REVIEW: ‘Circle of Chimes’ – Marius Neset

MariusNeset_Circle

SAXOPHONIST and composer Marius Neset’s kaleidoscopic music increasingly fills mind and soul with that ‘kid in a sweet shop’ thrill, the senses bombarded with a dizzying array of timbres and rhythms to assimilate.

Following 2016’s acclaimed, orchestrally-focused Snowmelt, Neset returns to an ensemble more closely aligned with its predecessor Pinball for new album Circle of Chimes. The familiar names of pianist Ivo Neame, vibraphonist Jim Hart, double bassist Petter Eldh and drummer Anton Eger are again joined by flautist Ingrid Neset and cellist Andreas Brantelid, whilst the inclusion of guitarist/vocalist Lionel Loueke adds a new compositional and improvisational dimension, imbuing Neset’s Scandinavian folk characteristics with attractive African hues.

A New Year’s Day commission premiered at Kölner Philharmonie, Cologne, in 2016, Neset describes this 78-minute suite as the darkest, most melancholic music he has created – yet amongst those emotions, his innate, breathless exuberance is never far away. The tubular bell chimes of Satellite (whose fluctuating rhythmic peals the saxophonist experimented with at length, at the piano) ‘ring in the new’, its brooding cello emotion encircled by a passed-around melodic riff redolent of Tallis’ Canon. It’s the first sign of an octet working as one to express a huge, romantically cinematic landscape, segueing into Star which bounces and rebounds to a typically ecstatic folk tune, with Eger’s engine-room clamour driving its disco groove. Neset does well to engineer and contain the ferocity, bringing his electronically-charged tenor down to lyrical pools of cello, piano and soft African enunciations.

There’s a sense of progression, as if the year unfolds with fresh experiences – so funky A New Expression struts assuredly to Neset’s boppy improv (it can only be Neset) plus Loueke’s scratchy, synthesised fretwork and accompanying scat; and soprano sax in classically-inspired Prague’s Ballet dances delicately across pizzicato cello and featherweight marimba. Life Goes On tumbles – nay, somersaults – to Marius Neset’s melodica signature-tune positivity, a sign of Spring in the air as its jazz-orchestra cheerfulness (enhanced by Ingrid Neset’s lithe flute) is gatecrashed by percussion-fuelled vibraphone and pleasantly abrasive guitar chords. Perhaps its the West African influence which sparks such variety, Sirens of Cologne whirling to intoxicating samba grooves, deep vocal resonances, flutey songbirds – a full-on celebration.

Going right back to his 2011 release Golden Xplosion, as well as duo album Neck of the Woods with tubist Daniel Herskedal, Neset has always had a feel for an otherworldliness – and tenor feature Silent Room imagines lofty arches with its suspended sax lines and sensitive bass, piano and vibes support as it spirals into the heavens. At close on twelve minutes, 1994 almost needs separating from the pack to appreciate its fullness as it mesmerises with episodic vibrancy; and the saxophonist’s distinctive solo ‘hiccups’ announce ebullient Eclipse which brings the album’s opening chants and time-evocative carillons full circle.

Neset conceives such incredibly elaborate stories that they can sometimes be overwhelming to take in at one hearing – but Circle of Chimes becomes a joy as that intricate weave is gradually understood.

Released on 29 September and available from ACT Music, iTunes, Amazon, etc.

 

Marius Neset tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, melodica
Lionel Loueke guitar, vocals
Andreas Brantelid cello
Ingrid Neset flute, piccolo, alto flute
Ivo Neame piano
Jim Hart vibraphone, marimba, percussion
Petter Eldh double bass
Anton Eger drums, percussion

mariusneset.info

ACT Music – ACT 9038-2 (2017)

‘Snowmelt’ – Marius Neset, London Sinfonietta


Snowmelt

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 – BirdsLion 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.

Released on 26 August 2016, Snowmelt is available from ACT Music. Promo video here.

 

Marius Neset tenor and soprano saxophones
Ivo Neame piano
Petter Eldh bass
Anton Eger drums

LONDON SINFONIETTA
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

mariusneset.info

ACT Music – 9035-2 (2016)

‘Pinball’ – Marius Neset

Pinball

IF THE NAME Marius Neset hasn’t yet entered your vocabulary, or his staggering musical proficiency not already hit your ears… then, with this latest album, Pinball, prepare for a life-changing jazz experience!

The Norwegian saxophonist and composer first erupted onto the wider European scene only four years ago with debut Golden Xplosion, and the ensuing releases – Birds (Edition, 2013) and Lion (ACT, 2014) – each time, left mouths gaping wider at the technical precision and impassioned musicality of the performances and writing. Some say he is the Parker or Coltrane of our time, with clear echoes of Brecker and Garbarek, and it’s unlikely to be an exaggeration that his distinct imprint on the progression and broadening of the jazz genre is creating, for us, the same revelatory tremors (turn out the lights, listen… and the saxophonist surely couldn’t be anyone else).

Mentored by Django Bates, that same sense of perpetual exploration and living on the edge is evident in Neset’s music – but it is also ingrained with atmospheres which reflect the musical folk traditions and awe-inspiring landscapes of his homeland, resulting in a rich combination of raw excitement and deep emotion. And, with every new release, the complexity and beauty of his compositional outpourings become impressively aggrandised.

Early in 2014, and in Mahlerian ‘composing hut’ spirit, Neset tucked himself away in a Norwegian mountain cottage and was inspired “to write almost a whole album”, specifically with his band colleagues (mostly from the Birds album) in mind – Ivo Neame (piano, Hammond), Jim Hart (vibes, marimba), Petter Eldh (bass) and Anton Eger (drums, percussion), plus special guests. Neset’s association with Eger runs deep, both collaborating here on production as well as some of the writing.

Title track Pinball conveys the overarching character of these twelve numbers – meticulously-conceived melodies, yet the varietal moods, audacious polyrhythms and fervid, darting improvisations make it all so entertainingly unpredictable. Mesmerising clapping and flutter-tongued flute herald World Song Pt. 1, a joyous, African-imbued opener filled with chattering folk dance riffs and soaring tenor; Pt. 2 is more ruminative – with distant knell, quivering cello and elegiac violin – until Jim Hart’s eloquent vibes resound up into the skies to summon a sunshiny recapitulation. The album’s effervescence is punctuated by calmer interludes, the subterranean resonance of Petter Eldh’s bass and Eger’s slow drum in Odes of You remarkably soothing, combined with Ivo Neame’s Hammond/piano and Neset’s lyricism.

Police (for silent movie buffs) portrays all the cheeky, madcap clatter of the Keystone Cops; with Marius’s tenor and sister Ingrid’s flute so chirpily yet accurately synched, it’s a real smile-raiser. Evoking thoughts of Neset’s haunting 2012 album with Daniel Herskedal (Neck of the Woods), Music for Cello and Saxophone is a fascinating echoic ‘duologue’ in which both instruments intertwine so convincingly; and the later Music for Drums and Saxophone finds Neset sharing the percussive possibilities of his tenor with Eger’s pin-sharp rhythms in a delicate, trance-like episode.

Never pass up the opportunity to catch this band live (tour dates here), Theatre of Magic offering a glimpse of the divergency of their craft as Marius, here with the illusion of playing both tenor and soprano, leads its glorious vivacity. Swirling Aberhonddu, presumably a nod to Brecon’s much-loved jazz festival, might suggest the capricious climatic conditions up on the Beacons, whilst Jaguar showcases the leader’s forceful soprano rapidity. His sparkling, trademark ‘duotone’ tenor announces Summer Dance, an astonishingly detailed Irish reel-like celebration coloured warmly with Hart’s marimba, before layered sax end-piece Hymn from the World reverently closes.

Released in the UK on 2 February 2015, the spine-tingling musicianship of Pinball makes it an irresistible repeat player!

Further information and audio samples at ACT Music.

 

Marius Neset tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone
Ivo Neame piano, Hammond B3, a.o.
Jim Hart vibraphone, marimba
Petter Eldh double bass
Anton Eger drums, percussion
with
Andreas Brantelid cello
Rune T. Sørensen violin
Ingrid Neset flute
August Wanngren tambourine
Pinball band clapping

mariusneset.info

ACT Music – ACT 9032-2 (2014)