Marius Neset – Pinball

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It’s possible to identify Marius Neset‘s rhythmically jumpy compositional and playing style even when it’s interpreted in the band clapping it out, which is exactly how this album, the fourth from the 29-year-old Norwegian saxophone wonder, and the third in small combo format, opens.

The two part opener, called World Song, quickly develops with an echo-heavy Neset sibling, Ingrid, on flute, the marimba of Jim Hart, the drums of Anton Eger, the bass of Petter Eldh, the piano of Ivo Neame, and the strings of Rune Tonsgaard Sørensen and Andreas Brantelid over which Neset lays his signature style of improvisation, with just the right grit in just the right places, his muscular tone, multi-phonic warbles and acrobatic leaps across the octaves bringing the listener’s jaw into that familiar dropped position.

The music is simultaneously a joyful folk jig, a masterclass in virtuosic playing and a supreme example of all that is most exciting in contemporary European jazz.

Neset says he wrote the music with the musicians in mind – the same players as on his second album, Birds, with the single change of Eldh in for Jasper Høiby, and the increasing depth of their mutual understanding is striking. Neset and Eger have a particularly strong rapport, which is not surprising since the Norwegian and the Swede share the ability to make perfect sense of insanely fast and complex music. Here, as previously, they collaborate on the writing as well as the playing.

The title track has all the bounce and shooting off at tangents as in the game, needing similar motor skills, sleight of hand, speed of reaction time and just a smidgeon of luck to successfully bring off. These players are winners all. Unexpectedly, at its centre, it suddenly slows and swirls as if held in slow motion before shooting off again in bounce and deflection, flap and paddle.

There is a gorgeous saxophone and cello duo with Brantelid, and a similar one of sax and drums, Neset getting percussion effects from closely-mic’d clicking pads and rhythmic reed-popping.

Of course, Neset doesn’t just do breakneck, swirling, swooping music; he is also a heart-on-sleeve romantic, heart-achingly lyrical on a track like Odes Of You.

Another real high point is the grand finale, Summer Dance, which Neset opens with one of his characteristic octave-hopping melody and bass accompaniment displays before the piece builds into an ecstatic folk knees-up, complete with jump-cut rhythms, layered harmonies, sublime solos, melodic richness spilling over at every twist and turn.

It so often happens that an album is released in January and already your ears are telling you that it will be there high up in the “best of” lists in 11 months’ time. This is just such an album, a magnificent achievement and, I think, his best so far.

Here is a video taster with Marius talking about how it was made:

  • The Marius Neset band is touring the UK over the next few months. Dates are:

7 Feb – Jazz on a Winter’s Weekend, Southport
18 Mar – Purcell Room, London
19 Mar – Turner Sims, Southampton
9 Apr – Crucible Studio, Sheffield
10 Apr – CBSO Centre, Birmingham – More here.
11 Apr – Brighton Dome, Brighton
12 Apr – Colston Hall, Bristol
15 Apr – Lakeside Arts Centre, Nottingham
16 Apr – Seven Arts Centre, Leeds
17 Apr – The Capstone Theatre, Liverpool



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