Marius Neset & The London Sinfonietta cond. Geoffrey Patersonw/Ivo Neame (pno); Jim Hart (perc); Petter Eldh (bass); Anton Eger (drums)(Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre , EFG London Jazz Festival, 21 November 2019. Review by Richard Lee)Marius Neset is 34. Let that sink in. Sure, there have been those bright flashing stars who burnt out younger, but peaking in your mid-30s as a composer and performer is Mozartian, maybe Gershwinian. Anyway, before I’m shot down for invidious comparisons, suffice to say Neset can easily claim the genius garland. His pair of suites Viaduct, here receiving its UK premiere, with the equally accomplished and youthful Geoffrey Paterson conducting the London Sinfonietta, and Neset’s regular sidemen, is a revelatory survey and celebration of musical influences from the last century and a half.
From the opening, fast paced scherzos end on a Bernstein-like hanging note; string choruses play at odds with angular Stravinskian percussion & vibes supplied by the ever-inventive Jim Hart. Oh, and here’s a Bernard Herrmann homage, romance with a touch of Vertigo… and there’s a bluesier section echoing Ellington and Gershwin, while I’m sure I detected some Weather Report in the final triumphant movements. There were shivers of recognition at a West Side Story-ish theme and a Monk or Mingus-like riff, but these weren’t mere pastiche or quotes: the allusions are carefully crafted so that the whole suite is unmistakably Neset’s.
He is literally at the centre of things, speeding through the most complex of runs on soprano and tenor with the studied intensity of one who is hard at work but hardly breaking a sweat, making complexity sound effortless. His extraordinarily speedy runs are complemented with whisper-quiet sections, such as his feathered, percussive stopping of the tenor keys. And while most concert and gigging musicians rarely refer to manuscript, one sensed a capaciousness in his ability to perform such complex and detailed work from memory.
Elsewhere, everyone‘s stands had sheaves of dots – though a moment of delight came near the end when the propulsive Anton Eger joyfully flung his drum parts aside. Of course, the quintet are top notch, as Seb Scotney noted at their explosively good gig earlier this year, next door in the Purcell Room, and each contributed solos of immense drive. Their provenance as alumni from the Django Bates school of rhythm ensures that. On this night, a dramatically swift-plucked bass solo from Petter Eldh explored the instrument’s full range, and Jim Hart’s tour de force on the vibes stood out, matched by a whirlwind from Ivo Neame’s piano, especially in the final section.
The quintet seemed at one with the orchestra and the Sinfonietta is no stranger to Neset, having worked with him and his colleagues in 2016 for Snowmelt. In commissioning this it has found a perfect foil for its fleet and furious ensemble playing. As well as the ever-buoyant strings, I particularly enjoyed Byron Fulcher’s pure-toned trombone work and the studied woodwinds of Michael Cox and Michael Whight.
Of course you can already hear the Viaduct album on streaming, and very good it is too, but the live event was awash with a unique energy. Viaduct? It certainly is a connection with where we’ve been and heralds a way to go for the future. I’d also suggest an aqueduct with its thrilling rush of unpredictable currents knocking you off your feet, transporting you somewhere surprising.