Marius Neset Circle of Chimes
(ACT 9038-2. CD review by Jon Turney)
Since he signed for ACT a few years back, it’s become clear that Marius Neset’s ambitions extend well beyond being Europe’s most exciting young saxophonist. His first release for the label, 2014’s Lion, featured lengthy new scores for the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra. Last year’s Snowmelt, an acclaimed collaboration with the London Sinfonietta, presented another Neset-composed suite for large ensemble. This latest offering, Circle of Chimes, again sees Neset the composer pushing into new areas, drawing on jazz but blending in many other styles and genres.
It features the same personnel as the marvellous, more conventionally jazzy Pinball from 2015, where he shared the writing with long-time colleague drummer Anton Eger. As there, his regular touring quintet is augmented by Ingrid Neset’s flutes and Andreas Brantelid’s cello, and this time Lionel Loueke joins them on guitar, as he did at the 2016 New Year concert in Cologne where these pieces were first aired.
The session was recorded a few days later in Copenhagen. The results are…. mixed. There are many things to like here. The opener, Satellite, beguiles with the titular chimes, and Brantelid’s haunting cello lines. Prague’s Ballet features Neset at his most lyrical on soprano sax, chamber-style. There are plenty of other arresting moments. Neset is the most powerful player throughout, but Ivo Neame on piano contributes brilliantly, too.
For me, though, this collection doesn’t quite hang together. Swerves of mood and style make for a rather disjointed whole. Moments to savour are interspersed with orchestral passages that amplify Neset’s characteristic, bustling urgency to a point where it feels, at times, hectoring. Loueke’s contributions, unusually for him, don’t always sound entirely comfortable, and he takes up space that might have been exploited by band regular Jim Hart on vibes, who has less to do than usual.
All in all, the set reaffirms the leader’s increasingly impressive powers, as player and composer, but feels like a documentation of pieces that might have settled better if they had been performed more than once before ushering the band into a studio. The credits feature Neset as composer, arranger and producer – as well as his indispensable contributions as the most distinctive soloist. Eger is named as co-producer here, but I wonder whether ACT might serve their young star better by arranging for him to work with a producer outside the band on projects as complex and wide-ranging as this one. But it’ll have to be someone who can help shape the outpourings of one who is such a powerful creative force in European music, whether he’s channeling Zawinul or Zappa.