For most its hundred years or so, the materials jazz have been simple – 12-bar blues, popular song forms, dance beats, minimal modal structures, or no structures at all – and the ingenuity improvisers has done the rest. But times have changed on either side what was once the jazz/classical frontier. Marius Neset, the crossover-trailblazing 34-year-old Norwegian saxophonist and composer, issues the latest pro that with the London Sinfonietta-commissioned Viaduct, successor to 2016’s intricately crafted, action-packed Snowmelt, with the same ensemble.
Neset confirms again how willing he is to go the extra mile in creatively unpicking the methods 20th-century composers from Grieg to Stravinsky, Bartók and Mahler to Messiaen. The precocious sax virtuoso 2010 has evolved an integrated vision with a different kind power, with the first two suites here highlighting the ensemble, and the second Neset’s dynamic Euro jazz quintet, including UK pianist Ivo Neame, vibraphonist Jim Hart and drummer Anton Eger. St, slowly deepening strings daydreams are barged into by frenetic, Stravinskyesque dances gurgling woodwinds and darting flute lines early on. Quizzical solo violin passages meet pattering percussion before Neset’s tenor enters with a twisting postbop-sax jazz theme, and rugged, Charlie Haden-like bass rejoinders from Petter Eldh. A marimba vamp underpinned by deep woodwinds suggests Afrobeat, and Neset drifts in and out cat-and-mouse Wayne Shorter phrasing, languidly slewing themes, reminiscent Loose Tubes, sometimes nodding to the saxophonist’s mentor, Django Bates. Swooning romantic-movie purrs turn to urgent jazz exchanges for Neame, Eldh and Eger in the later stages. Neset’s voracious musical mind clearly absorbs swathes new data fast, and he’s reprocessing his classical acquisitions with an intensity that can leave you pleading for him to back f – but maybe that’s a price worth paying to witness a rare kind contemporary composer/player coming into his own.
Also out this month
That perceptive, unaffectedly wilful UK singer-pianist Joy Ellis (above), an artist whose keyboard playing prods and provokes her melodies and lyrics rather than caressing them, follows up her acclaimed Life on Land debut with her sharp band, including young guitar maestro Rob Luft, on Dwell (Oti-O Records). ECM Records’ 50th anniversary year culminates with its 1969 first release, with former Billie Holiday piano accompanist Mal Waldron’s Free at Last. It’s inimitably gritty, unsentimental piano trio improvising, but with spartan melodies always uppermost, despite the title.