In a relatively short space of time, Marius Neset has become an imposing presence on the European jazz scene. He is a virtuosic talent, with a distinctive sound and intricate compositional approach. He has mainly busied himself with his own projects and with meaningful collaborations (such as last year’s recording with Lars Danielsson and Morten Lund). Rather than dividing his time between multiple projects, he has established a very strong personal musical identity.
His music is often both thrilling and cathartic. It has a daring (perhaps even reckless) quality that makes it sound deliriously risky. What is rarely in doubt is that Neset and his equally adept musicians (he has established a strong working relationship with his rhythm section – powerful bassist Petter Eldh, pianist Ivo Neame and the remarkably dexterous and nimble drummer Anton Eger).
Snowmelt is Neset’s second project taking his writing to a wider canvas. 2014’s Lion found him rearranging some of his existing material to feature the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra, whilst on Snowmelt, he now incorporates a new range of instrumental sounds and colours from the musicians of the London Sinfonietta (this was briefly hinted at on last year’s Pinball, which occasionally added strings and woodwind). Given that Neset’s small band writing already sounds full to near-bursting point, one might be forgiven for questioning whether a work for jazz band and contemporary chamber orchestra might end up feeling overwrought. Could this simply be a case of too much information? Neset’s insistent rhythms and fluttering, angular melodies might perhaps be wearing in this context.
Refreshingly, Snowmelt has actually captured new sides to Neset’s writing and has found him very successfully finding poise and balance between his established writing style and these less familiar aspects. Whilst the music retains the hectic, fleet-footed folk dance quality of much of his small band work, it also expands upon more sensitive qualities only previously hinted at (for example on Angel Of The North from the Golden Xplosion album). What is even more impressive is that amidst all this writing, Neset has still left plenty of space for improvisation, including some stellar contributions from his bandmates. The opening prologue highlight’s Neset’s solo soprano saxophone and the wide range of sonic possibilites he can extract from the one instrument, whilst the Paradise section of the suite Arches Of Nature finds pianist Ivo Neame taking flight.
By devoting most of Snowmelt to long compositions (the wild, euphoric 12 minutes of the title track and the expansive suite Arches of Nature), Neset allows himself the time and space in which to explore his theme of extremes and contrasts. The music here ranges from abrasive dissonance to a rich, sensitive lyricism. He manages to explore the latter tendency without crossing over into the lachrymose or sentimental, instead establishing a mature and thoughtful dimension to his writing. Even with the strings attached, a piece like The Storm Is Over still has a smoky jazz club quality to it, suggesting that Neset is as respectful of the jazz tradition as he is fearlessly contemporary. It has a kind of elemental, natural beauty to it reminscent of the best of Maria Schneider’s writing (not a musician that might previously have been thought of in reference to Neset).
Neset is still evolving as a composer, and his playing still has the ability to leave the listener breathless (as does the extraordinary ability of his band to play his intricate, very challenging charts so fluidly). The depth and range of Snowmelt augurs very well indeed, suggesting there are many more musical possibilities for Neset still to explore.