CD review: Marius Neset

big birdsBirds
(Edition Records EDN1040)

It’s 25 March and the CD that could still stand on 31 December as the most impressive jazz release of 2013 is available for purchase. Yippee! And should you have any doubts, I’d listen to the 10 minutes and 52 seconds that is the opening, title track.

It starts with a repeating note and the rhythmic feel of a minimalist piece. Is it a saxophone? A flute? The accordion of Bjarke Mogensen plays what could be a Norwegian folk melody over it and is joined by the vibes of Jim Hart and things start to get more complicated both harmonically and rhythmically. Melodic swoops start to be incorporated and low saxophone pulses, before the bass of Jasper Hoiby, the drums of Anton Eger, the piano of Ivo Neame and the massed saxophones of a few Marius Nesets punch out a counter theme while the original tune re-emerges on flute and accordion. The flautist is Marius’s teenage sister Ingrid.

From there it’s a a roller coaster ride which involves some complex through writing, lots of those swooping and twisting saxophone lines, and some flirting at the edge of chaos, before the piece falls back into a saxophone solo against the busy and entangled branches constructed by Hoiby, Eger, Neame (Phronesis, in other words) and Hart. Again the intensity builds and we break through into the whirling skies of those initial themes once more, rising to an apparent ending of low horns and a staccato piano note.

Except that it isn’t the ending and we are treated to some gorgeous flute birdsong before a final huge, echoing chord brings Birds to a real landing place.

There is more excitement, more interest and more reward for the listener in that one track than you will find in many a full hour-long album. And there are still 10 tracks to go.

Reprise gives a bit of respite with some lyrical playing before things build to a threatening hurricane with Neset reminding us of the saxophone acrobatics he can perform, and the whole band joining in. It’s called Boxing and there is a distinctly pugilistic and competitive feel to its urgent mood.

Portuguese Windmill is, like Birds, another short suite of a piece, beginning with Neset on tenor and Neame in duo (the sound of the recording is fabulous) before bass, vibes and drums join in, all in gentle ballad mode. Of course it is not long before this windmill begins to feel the “Nortada” and starts to spin faster, Neset now on soprano and Phronesis and Co. feeling right at home in the urgency of the rhythm.

Spring Dance brings the birds back again, the Neset siblings circling each other, and then Marius pushing out one of the those low patterns he does so well (I’m not sure any other tenor player is quite so comfortable right down in the curly end of the instrument). With Eger giving them a percussive cushion, flute and saxophone soar.

Fields Of Clubs and The Place Of Welcome have Neset sharing the composing credits with Eger. The former has a lovely solo from Hart and a jubilant, celebratory feel which for some reason calls to mind the big band of Jaco Pastorius. In fact the kind of exhilaration I feel listening to this album is akin to that I feel listening to the Word Of Mouth band, to Loose Tubes and Django Bates’s later large ensembles, to Weather Report and to Zawinul’s later bands. Yes, it is that good. The latter offers the lush delicacy of bass and vibes in whispering mode with Neset joining them from a distance. Again the build is as carefully done as it is inevitable.

Sacred Universe has a more conventional construction, though yet again there are so many ideas here it’s almost too big to be a tune and more like a suite. It has that Django Bates feel to the writing that we’ve heard before (Neset studied with Bates in Copenhagen) but in fact I think this band is the better for not having Bates at the piano (as he was for Neset’s debut, Golden Xplosion). Neame is an exceptionally fine pianist and plays the part beautifully leaving the Batesisms to the leader’s pen.

Math Of Mars has a whole section of horns, including Daniel Herskedal on tuba, and has the spine tingling as those rich voicings build up against Eger’s almost military drums while Neset soars above on soprano. Harmonies this rich are rarely found outside a Maria Schneider album.

The final Fanfare continues that marching snare, and that folk melody that we first heard on accordion nearly an hour ago returns on flute against the tuba. Here we are in stoRMChaser (the band Bates led at the Rhythmic Music Conservatory in Copenhagen and in which Neset was a star soloist) territory. But by now we have learned to distinguish the student from his teacher. Again, this is triumphant, exuberant, celebratory music. It will make you want to dance through the streets in joy. And the way it builds and piles excitement upon excitement. Well, one is left mouthing “Wow!” over and over again.

Simply brilliant? No, more complexly brilliant. A triumph in every sense.

The Marius Neset band is on tour in England next month. The dates are:

17 April Barnstaple North Devon Festival
21 April Cambridge Cambridge Modern Jazz Club
22/23 April London Pizza Express Jazz Club
24 April Halifax Dean Clough
25 April Manchester Band On The Wall
27 April Clitheroe Grand Theatre
1 May Birmingham mac
2 May Bristol St George’s Hall
3 May Cheltenham Cheltenham Jazz Festival

And here is a taste of the album:



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  1. Quercus and Neset lead the Midland jazz attractions this week | thejazzbreakfast
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