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Posts tagged ‘Marius Neset’

Marius Neset / Trondheim Jazz Orchestra

It was a liberating moment for large jazz ensembles in general when Carla Bley and Charlie Haden decided, while putting together the first Liberation Music Orchestra album in 1968, that big bands no longer had to operate according to a policy of strict precision. The informality of the amateur bands assembled for Balkan weddings, Sicilian funerals or Andalucian saints’ day parades seemed more appropriate to the spirit of jazz than the militaristic discipline associated with, say, the Buddy Rich Orchestra. It was something that Duke Ellington and Charlie Mingus had always known, but they were thought to be exceptions to the rule that if you have four trumpeters, they should start and finish a phrase as if they were four mouthpieces attached to a single instrument, rather than the voices of four individuals.

Something similar happened in rock music when the Band came along. The voices of Richard Manuel, Rick Danko and Levon Helm were distinct from each other, each with its own tone and grain. This cross-textured quality set their harmonies apart from those of, say, the Beach Boys and the Four Seasons, who aimed to produce a unified, homogenised choral sound.

I was thinking about that while listening to the saxophonist Marius Neset and the 11-piece Trondheim Jazz Orchestra perform pieces from their recent ACT album, Lion, at Ronnie Scott’s last night. These conservatory-trained Norwegians are phenomenal technicians, and the compositions Neset has provided for them are complex and challenging, to say the least, but the collective attack of the ensemble has nothing to do with nanosecond exactness and everything to do with the human element of a dozen people playing together. That humanity was the overriding impression left by an hour and a half of exceptional music.

The breadth and subtlety of Neset’s writing for this usual ensemble (two trumpets, trombone, tuba, three saxophones, accordion, piano, bass and drums) demonstrates that he is a musical thinker of great qualities, with a gift for unexpected combinations of instrumental timbres that is handed down from Ellington and Gil Evans (the opening of the ballad titled “Raining”, for instance, was ravishing). His long, often discursive pieces left plenty of room for solos by each of the musicians, all of whom made handsome use of the opportunity. Eivind Loning’s trumpet multiphonics, Eirik Hegdal’s rampaging baritone saxophone (imagine John Surman after swallowing a bag of rusty nails), Jovan Pavlovic’s delicate accordion and Espen Berg’s discreet piano — occupying a clearing that suddenly appeared in the middle of the otherwise densely eventful “Weight of the World” — were outstanding. The individual highlight of the whole night, however, was a long, long bass solo by Petter Eldh, whose energy and inventiveness seemed inexhaustible; somewhere inside my head, his sprung rhythms were still unwinding themselves the next morning.

I don’t think Neset himself is a great improviser yet. He has all the equipment, but in the arc of his solos and his mannerisms — the horn comes out of his mouth and his left hand flies off the keys at regular intervals, while his blond hair flops rather fetchingly as his body flexes in ecstasy — he’s less like a conventional jazz musician than a lead guitarist in a prog-rock band, whose playing always has to build inexorably to a climax guaranteed to lift listeners from their seats. Which, in his case, it does. But once a night is enough. After that it begins to feel predictable. At 29, however, he has time on his side.

Before and after Loose Tubes

Graham CollierJazz continues to evolve, as it always has, through a process of emulation and transformation, whether gradual or radical. Take Loose Tubes, the British big band whose youthful spirit and eclectic wit caused a stir almost 30 years ago, and whose successful reunion at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival and Ronnie Scott’s in the last few days has been widely celebrated (here’s John Fordham’s review of the festival gig). Their origins go back to a rehearsal band formed in the early ’80s by the composer Graham Collier, whose generosity in allowing his protégés to bring in their own compositions eventually led to the decision to strike out as a co-operative venture. Since then the members of the band have become mentors and exemplars in their own right. Django Bates, to name the most obvious, has spent much of the last decade teaching at a conservatory in Copenhagen.

Collier died in 2011, aged 74, having played a key role in the phase of British jazz that followed the bebop era. He and Mike Westbrook were the two young composer-leaders who, in the 1960s, nurtured a generation of fine improvisers, including Harry Beckett and John Surman. Now his memory is well served by a 2CD set of two extended pieces that he left behind, now recorded by a fine 15-piece band and issued as Luminosity: The Last Suites on the Jazz Continuum label.

The first piece, The Blue Suite, is explicitly inspired by Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue: the titles of the individual movements include “Kind of So What”, “Kind of Freddie”, “Kind of Sketchy”… you get the idea. But these are impressions, not borrowings. The writing is spare, reflective, full of life and light, free of bombast, offering extensive opportunities to a group of fine soloists, including the tenorist Art Themen, the guitarist Ed Speight and the trumpeter Steve Waterman, urged on by the bassist Roy Babbington and the drummer John Marshall, both once regular Collier sidemen. If I don’t find the second work, Luminosity, quite so invigorating, then that’s because its companion piece sets such a high standard. But the set as a whole makes a good bookend to a Collier collection that starts with his recording debut, the classic Deep Dark Blue Centre album from 1967.

Django Bates’s students in Copenhagen have included Marius Neset, the brilliant young saxophonist whose new album with the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra, Lion (ACT), shows us another aspect of his musical character. These medium-length pieces are written for a 12-piece ensemble, including accordion and tuba, and demonstrate a wide range of resource and an avoidance of anything resembling big-band clichés. Even when the writing is at its most detailed and demanding, there’s never a sense of showing-off. Individually, the inventiveness of Neset’s own playing is matched by that of his colleagues, particularly the bassist Peter Eldh and whichever of the two trumpeters, Eivind Lonning and Erik Eilertsen, takes the solos (unfortunately they aren’t identified). This is music whose innate discipline never conflicts with its powerful sense of exhilaration.

I’m sure Collier would have been thrilled to see the progress made by the members of his old workshop band. And I’ll bet he’d have been equally proud of his role, albeit at one step removed, in Neset’s burgeoning career. In jazz, that’s how it’s supposed to happen. And it still does.

* The photograph of Graham Collier is from the Luminosity package and was taken by Karlijne Pietersma.