Marius Neset/Ambrose Akinmusire, Jazz Festival, Gateshead
Here's a Norwegian who blows more hot than cold
Sunday 01 April 2012
The stereotype of the Norwegian jazz saxophonist follows the ice-cool model of Jan Garbarek. Someone, that is, who's slow and spiritual and spends his spare time staring soulfully into fjords.
Marius Neset, by contrast, is a tow-haired dude from Bergen who looks more used to playing Fifa on his Xbox than pondering the mysteries of nature. One of his tunes, "City on Fire", is even inspired by a football match. His debut album of last year, Golden Xplosion (Edition Records) proved a big critical hit, announcing the arrival of a genuinely exciting new saxophone voice. But it's in the real-time art of playing live that Neset, who's 25 but looks years younger, breaks the mould.
Appearing on Sunday afternoon at the low-energy time of 5.30pm, Neset and his quartet upped the jazz temperature to scalding with a show of astounding power. Beginning as a duo with the English pianist Ivo Neame, Neset immediately set out his stall, blowing short, angular phrases of increasing density and weight that gradually coalesced into music. As the notes tumbled out of his tenor sax with enough force to fill the crowded hall with sound, he doubled the intensity by "overblowing" on the instrument's reed to produce multiphonic effects, where individual notes split into chords through the accretion of squawking harmonics. This was far closer to Sonny Rollins than to Jan Garbarek, but that made sense, too. For Neset's real musical interest seems to be rhythm, as befits a graduate from Copenhagen's Rhythmic Music Conservatory, where British pianist and composer Django Bates has been professor of music since 2005.
When the Danish bassist Jasper Hoiby and the Swedish drummer Anton Eger – both fellow graduates from Copenhagen – came out to complete the quartet, the rhythms got more intense still. But the grandstanding hadn't stopped yet. Using circular breathing, Neset surpassed the normal, circus-trick limitations of the technique to create thick, funky licks that sounded as bluesy as Junior Walker's "Shotgun".
After that, came another solo showcase where, through the addition of various effects pedals, Neset made his saxophone sound like a choir of angels. It was the best jazz application of new-tech I'd ever seen. Then, just when you were ready to hail him as a genius, Marius took a step too far. A long sax and drums duo went on and on, Neset's tricks diminishing with every repetition. He has yet to learn, as the great saxophonist Plas Johnson once told me, "not to milk the bone dry".
Earlier that afternoon, the hot new star of US jazz, Californian trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, had proved equally impressive. On one tune designed to act as a showcase for his skills, Akinmusire alternated long, impossibly thin lines with big, fat blasts that shook the room. But Akinmusire isn't just playing the trumpet; he's playing the tradition, in homage to Clifford Brown and all the greats before him. Similarly, he wears his responsibilities as a bandleader more heavily than Neset, taking care to give each musician his due. As John Cumming of Serious, the festival's producers, said from the stage: the future of jazz is looking pretty good.
Marius Neset's next UK appearance is at the Swanage Jazz Festival, on 14 Jul
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