Marius Neset with London Sinfonietta – Snowmelt (2016)
FLAC (tracks) 24 bit/88,2 kHz | Time – 52:08 minutes | 917 MB | Genre: Jazz
Studio Master, Official Digital Download | Source: HighResAudio | Booklet, Front Cover | ©ACT Music
Recorded by Jon Bailey at AIR Studios, London, 16th and 17th March, 2015
Marius Neset burst onto the scene with his first album as leader in 2011, and was instantly hailed as combining ‘Brecker’s power and Garbarek’s tonal delicacy’ and being ‘on his way to being one of the biggest new draws on the circuit’ (Guardian). The album ‘Snowmelt’ is his most ambitious, cherished and personal project to date. In these concentrated works, Neset has sought out chaos and dissonance, he has also been drawn to lyricism and tenderness, and then worked at finding a balance between the extremes, using compositional methods which subliminally bring out the continuities between them. The three main compositions on ‘Snowmelt’ are the fruit of intense work during the period from 2012 to 2015. Given Neset’s long, considered process, the scale of the undertaking, and the sheer amount of work, time and thought that have gone into his compositions, it comes as no surprise that each listen brings seems to bring more revelations. There is always something more here for the listener to discover and unravel.
The three main compositions on “Snowmelt” are the fruit of intense work during the period from 2012 to 2015 by Norwegian-born star saxophonist Marius Neset. On the printed page, these carefully planned and thought-through works, meticulous in their attention to detail and brimming with life, contrast and inventiveness, cover no fewer than 239 pages of full orchestral score.
That Marius Neset would eventually produce an extended orchestral-inspired work had been on the cards for some time. As early as his debut as leader, Suite for the Seven Mountains (Calibrated, 2008), the Norwegian saxophonist was incorporating strings into a contemporary jazz setting with a very personal stamp of authority. The extraordinary Birds (Edition Records, 2013) took the concept to exhilarating heights, with the addition of just a seven-piece chamber ensemble to his quintet producing complex, multi-layered sonic tapestries that sounded more like a full-blown orchestra.
If Neset was searching for that big sound, the opportunity came closer in 2012 through his collaboration with the twelve-piece Trondheim Jazz Orchestra, a commission by the Molde Jazz Festival 2012 that would produce Lion (ACT Music, 2014), a visceral yet lyrical tour de force. Like Lion, Snowmelt’s roots also lie in a commission, this time by the Oslo Sinfonietta. The original fifteen-minute piece for solo saxophone, chamber orchestra and choir premiered in March 2013, but Neset had a bigger vision to realize and continued labouring on Snowmelt through 2015.
A labour of love it has certainly been. Of the suite’s eleven segments for jazz quartet and nineteen-piece orchestra, the three main pieces of the original commission-weighing in at just under half the album’s fifty-odd minutes—account for some two hundred and thirty nine pages of full orchestral score. It is, without a doubt, Neset’s most ambitious work to date. Not surprisingly, the full score’s abundant riches do not render themselves completely upon first listening, as Neset clearly subscribes to Gustav Mahler’s oft quoted credence that “a symphony must be like the world—it must contain everything.”
Mahler is perhaps an obvious musical reference in the sublime, adagio-like passages, and Igor Stravinsky too, seems to guide Neset’s pen in places. Frank Zappa, potentially, is also a kindred, guiding spirit. It’s a potent mix. Tender yet epic, majestically sweeping and knottily complex in turn, Snowmelt is as challenging—at least initially—as it is rewarding, with Neset weaving dense sonic threads of vibrant colors, only to slowly unravel them and then begin the process all over again. And at heart, for all its orchestral ambition, for all its complexity, Snowmelt, is essentially rhythmic music in essence, with the pendulum swinging fairly constantly between urgent and faint pulses, and befitting a musician trained in Copenhagen’s famed Rhythmic Music Conservatory.
To that end, the rhythm section of Anton Eger, Ivo Neame and Petter Eldh is central to the ebb and flow of the music. Following the pastoral chirping of reeds and flutes on “Sirens,” Neame’s martial rat-a-tat—a repeating motif—is an ominous harbinger of the symphonic tumult that ensues, led by Neset’s spiralling soprano saxophone. Eldh, Eger and Neame construct a bridge of rhythmic continuity, short and direct, between “Sirens” and the aptly named “Acrobatics,” coming into their own as Neset peels away in a typically searching tenor saxophone solo. Rhythmic function aside, Neset also employs the trio with painterly touches, notably on the adagio passage of “The Storm is Over”; a single note from a triangle, whispering cymbal, sotto voce rumbling mallets and spacious piano notes falling slowly like raindrops -nuances that enrich this achingly lyrical score like gold leaf on a tapestry.
The sheer breadth of compositional elements and the ever-evolving dynamics—heraldic trumpets, pizzicato violin/viola riffs, staccato ensemble motifs, stomping brass rhythms, deliriously fast and intricately layered reed, flute and saxophone passages—make for an absorbing listening experience. Contrasts abound and are bound up together in a sprawling celebratory mosaic, from stormy and shrill to lulling and lyrical, epic and minimalist in turn. From the first unaccompanied soprano saxophone notes of “Prologue,” in fact, Neset weds melody and dissonance, tenderness and abrasiveness, the one flowing seamlessly into the other. In these two minutes Neset lays down a marker for the overarching juxtapositions to follow.
There are multiple highlights over the course of just over fifty minutes, but it’s hard to beat the beauty of the final twenty five minutes that encompass the episodic “The Storm is Over,” the tenor saxophone monologue “Introduction to Snowmelt” and the uplifting “Snowmelt”—a wonderful embrace between contemporary classical and jazz idioms.
With Snowmelt, Neset has arguably established himself—at just thirty two years of age—as one of the most significant and adventurous of modern composers and performers. Masterly and inspired, Snowmelt is a major contemporary work that will no doubt be studied, analysed and performed for years to come – allaboutjazz.com
1. Prologue 02:14
2. Arches of Nature: Sirens 01:53
3. Arches of Nature: Acrobatics 04:10
4. Arches of Nature: Circles 03:20
5. Arches of Nature: Caves 02:21
6. Arches of Nature: Paradise 05:54
7. Arches of Nature: Rainbows 03:35
8. Arches of Nature: Pyramiden 03:26
9. The Storm Is Over 09:00
10. Introduction to Snowmelt 04:16
11. Snowmelt 11:54
Marius Neset, tenor and soprano saxophones
Ivo Neame, piano
Petter Eldh, bass
Anton Eger, drums
conducted by Geoffrey Paterson