Marius Neset – A New Dawn
(ACT 9930-2. Album review by Jon Turney)
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The lavishly gifted Marius Neset has turned more to large ensemble projects of late, but his remarkable saxophone playing is invariably a vital ingredient. So it’s a fine thing to have this solo tenor saxophone set, a long-held ambition of his that suited a lockdown recording.
The eight pieces here were all composed on saxophone, although some have since been realised in other ways. He decided to strip them back, and record them with no overdubs or effects, just the sounds that can be extracted from the horn, unadorned.
In some ways that means the scope of this record is small. We get eight saxophone miniatures, études almost, in 35 minutes. It is all tenor sax, so timbral range, even with Neset’s skills, is limited. But limitations fall away as soon as you listen. These performances, realised in a single day in the studio this January, are bouyant, eloquent, and have plenty of those magic moments where you seem to be tapping directly into a player’s best thoughts rather than just hearing them move a column of air.
The 12-note figures of opener A New Creation are simply and beautifully delivered, but other tracks delve into more demanding realms of saxophony. There are doubled lines – sometimes for rhythmic emphasis, sometimes to intertwine melodies – and constant interjections and reactive phrases that sound improbably difficult to execute but flow happily from Neset’s single horn. Brighter Times and the rollicking Day in the Life of a Sparrow deploy catchy folkish themes, Morning Mist is suitably impressionistic, The Real YSJ boppishly bouncy, while Theme from Every Little Step at the close conjures a distantly overheard organ recital echoing from an empty cathedral.
Plenty of variety, then, and great pleasure to be had in the detail and polish of each of these little jewels. As Neset notes, he uses quarter tones and softly blown multi-phonics that might not even be audible if he had been accompanied. I’m not generally an audiophile, but urge you to listen to this one on a quality system or, even better, decent headphones. You hear every click of keys and tiny modulation of the airstream. Short of laying your own hands on the metal, and working your lungs and muscles, it’s about as close as a listener will get to feeling what it might be like to play the saxophone.
But again, forget all that. Come for the technique by all means, but stay for some marvellous music. This is one of those records – we have a few now – that responds to the alterations of life during a pandemic with a positive artistic offering that simply glows with optimism.
Categories: Album reviews