Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Review: Marius Neset - Golden Xplosion

Personnel: Marius Neset: soprano and tenor saxophones, piano (10); Django Bates: piano, keyboards, Eb horn; Jasper Hoiby: double-bass; Anton Eger: drums.

Neset’s most recent recordings feature a large-ish ensemble (Birds) and a collaboration with a tuba player (Neck of the Woods); since I prefer a more conventional setting for my first exposure to a jazz artist’s work, I chose to review Golden Xplosion, an earlier (2011) release.

Golden Xplosion starts with “Introducing: Golden Xplosion” (2:00), which has Neset on unaccompanied tenor sax repeating a disjointed, interval-jumping line, employing a pure, big tone.  As the line evolves, he is eventually joined by jabs of overdubbed harmonized saxophones.  “Golden Xplosion” (5:26) has a little bit of everything, starting with the rest of the group backing Neset with a rock-ish beat as he plays the disjointed line of the introduction at about double the speed, then Eger in the spotlight on drums with bass and keyboards playing a repeated phrase behind him, Bates playing a sinuous synthesizer solo (tuned like an organ), a repeated eighth-note line (including tenor) backing a bit of soprano sax improvising, and then things slowing down with Neset quietly improvising on tenor in tandem with Bates on Eb horn.

“City on Fire” (7:42) starts with a fast, intricate line with Neset (on tenor) in unison with synthesizer and drums, sounding like something from Chick Corea’s Elektric Band.  The band then goes into a funk/rock groove, and Neset plays a rollicking, dazzling tenor solo in a Michael Brecker/Bill Evans style against a kinetic backdrop from the rest of the group.  The band quiets down a bit as Bates plays a fluid synthesizer solo, and then Neset returns for more improvising, sounding more bluesy this time.  The cut finishes with a fast line played in unison by Neset and Bates and then a repeat of the theme.  As funky and rock-oriented as this cut is, it is very complex and tightly choreographed. 

“Sane” (3:47) features Neset on tenor playing a slow, romantic melody with lush accompaniment from Bates on acoustic piano and some spacy synthesizer sprinkled in.  Neset forgoes improvisation on this cut but shows off his fine tone and his clean, precise control of the altissimo register.

“Old Poison (XL)” (2:18) is a brief interlude for a cappella tenor saxophone that starts with a slow interval jumping phrase that evolves into a faster, more complex phrase (requiring some impressive technique) and comes back down again, with a few multiphonics thrown in for good measure.

“Shame Us” (6:31) starts with Neset engaged in some improvised interplay with bass and drums, Eger providing a bouncy, New Orleans-style rhythm, and then it moves into a Dave Holland-esque theme with an elusive meter.  Neset shows off his prodigious technique, hyperactive melodic imagination, and ability to swing in his relaxed solo.  Hoiby takes the spotlight briefly, and the cut ends with a repeat of the theme.

“Saxophone Intermezzo” (2:57) has Neset playing a slow melody on tenor sax against overdubbed harmonized saxophone notes, exploring numerous tonal capabilities of the instrument.  This cut leads into “The Real Ysj” (2:42), a fun piece that starts with overdubbed saxes slap-tonguing and repeating a funky, mid-tempo line over which Neset improvises in a showy Michael Brecker/Bill Evans style, similar to “City on Fire.”  The rhythm section lays out for the entire cut. “Saxophone Intermezzo II” (2:22) is a trio (I think) of overdubbed, harmonized saxes accompanying the lead tenor sax playing a solemn, hymn-like melody. 

“Angel of the North” (8:20) has an upper mid-tempo, luminous, anthem-like theme, played by Neset on tenor in unison with Bates on piano.  Neset switches over to soprano for a pretty, second theme, after which Hoiby plays a solid, melodic bass solo.  The second theme returns and then Neset plays a brief but intense soprano sax solo against a dense background, and then he has a frantic, free-wheeling outing on tenor.  The main theme returns and the cut climaxes in thrilling fashion, with a crescendo to a high, pure saxophone note held for a few beats.  This is a gorgeous piece of music, with a perfect balance of complex composition and improvisation—the high point of the recording.    

The recording ends with “Epilogue” (3:20), with Neset on soprano sax playing a folk-ish theme against a floating background of overdubbed saxophones and synthesizer.

Golden Xplosion establishes that Neset is a formidable saxophonist, with a big, warm sound, an unerring sense of melody, and a facility and bravura style along the lines of Donny McCaslin and Chris Potter.  He is also—perhaps even more so--a formidable composer and band leader, with an approach to melody and arranging that is ambitious, full of pleasant surprises, and ranges over a wide variety of styles.  That Neset can have such prodigious ability on the saxophone is a wonder; that he can combine that with a matching ability as a composer and arranger is simply mind-boggling.  It must be added that the success of this project is due in large measure to the flawless work of Neset’s band mates.  In sum, Golden Xplosion is a rich, serious, and fulfilling work in the jazz idiom and the product of an artist with remarkable abilities and astounding potential. 

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