Marius Neset, London Sinfonietta / Geoffrey Paterson – Geyser
(Queen Elizabeth Hall. 17 November 2023. EFG LJF. Live review by Jon Turney)
Special commissions often have their moment, then vanish these days – often, or perhaps especially, large scale ones. So it was a special pleasure to hear Marius Neset’s formidable Geyser, premiered at the BBC Proms last year, reprised at this London Jazz Festival.
It’s the Norwegian saxophonist’s third collaboration with the London Sinfonietta, who are of course crucial to its success. An orchestra who can bring off a piece that fully unites the rhythmic energy of jazz with more classical approaches, to say nothing of coping with the intricacy of Neset’s section writing, are an ensemble to be cherished.
Fresh from an airing of Geyser at the Baarum festival in Norway last week, they rose to every challenge Neset poses with superb skill. For those who have only heard the piece on radio, or on record (just released) the sound textures Neset conjures sound even more extraordinary in a first class concert hall, and the eight parts of Geyser are almost too much to take in over 75 minutes.
This is high level music-making, enhanced still further by the improvisational skills of the composer, and his regular quintet, placed unusually behind the orchestra. Anton Eger on drums and Conor Chaplin on bass, Ivo Neame’s piano and Jim Hart on vibes and percussion help ensure the whole crew weave the complex rhythmic fabric most of the movements demand, and also ensure every performance is different. Hart’s solo contribution seems particularly crucial this evening, bringing a whole new sound colour into the rich palette already on display from the ensemble, while Neset brings unstoppable force to the jubilant climax of the seventh section, Meeting Magma.
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At the close, it feels as if there has been enough music in this hour and a quarter to keep one going for several weeks, and they surely have to do this remarkable piece again. And after three rounds of collaboration over almost ten years, the understanding between the Sinfonietta and the composer is such that it is hard to envisage them not going on to new pieces that make such convincing use of the musical resources on offer here. I would not be without Neset’s regular jazz group outings, or his solo saxophone performances, but he is surely doing work with this combined ensemble that is like no-one else.