Tag Archives: Marius Neset

Gigs of 2014

Maciek Pysz_Pizza ExpressOver the past year I have gradually moved from being “just” a member of the audience to an active promoter for a small jazz club and I’m the booking agent for a jazz musician.   And this has had quite an effect on how I experience live music.   I now know just how hard it is to get gigs, how a malfunctioning monitor means a musician cannot hear himself or anyone else,  how not wearing your earplugs as a drummer is to risk serious damage to your eardrums. All of these things, and more, make me marvel at the musicians I have heard this year.     So here are a few sketches of many happy hours:

Marius Neset in Brecon Cathedral in August.  The sheer effort of Marius’s performance –  seeing him gasp like a marathon runner, his body almost doubled over as he tried to take in air after filling the vaults with incredible blood curdling sound.  A friend overheard to say “I don’t mind I never saw John Coltrane, because now I  have seen Marius Neset.”

Jef Neve , solo, at Kings Place in November.   A performance that moved me very much, especially Joni Mitchell’s A Case of You, a song  which Jef said had saved his life several times.  His simple heartfelt introductions to each song, like we were in his living room, enhanced the enjoyment.   His album One  is on my Christmas list.

Maciek Pysz at Pizza Express in March with Yuri Goloubev, Asaf Sirkis and Tim Garland.   Reviewed here.  And remembered most for the achingly beautiful Beneath an Evening Sky by Ralph Towner with duo between Tim and Maciek.

Phronesis at Union Chapel in May.  Clouds of dry ice softening our view in a huge venue, Anton’s smile when he saw friends on the front row. Jasper’s jokes. The sheer joy and energy of it, a wonderful huge sound, the retention of intimacy in a big space.

 Michael Wollny at Cheltenham Jazz Festival in April.    I decided not to listen to anything by him before the gig, I had heard of his reputation, but I wanted to discover him for myself. So I was completely blown away by his virtuosity,  huge presence and the togetherness of his trio, and the way I just “got” the music, from plain chant to rock.  He did not disappoint.  It’s great to be able to write that.

Roller Trio at Stratford Jazz in October.    It was such an honour to host Mercury Prize winners.   It’s not just that they write such catchy tunes, instantly hummable, their own sound.    It’s how they are on stage – no-nonsense, let’s get on with it and see what happens and let’s make sure people enjoy it because we will be enjoying it.  Banks of pedals in front of James.   Sounds that made your blood run cold with excitement and fear almost.  Luke’s drumming that could be heard down the street.

All these performances have one thing in common – they moved me, my life was richer because of them, and that is why they are my gigs of 2014.   Thank you, every one.

Mary James 16 December 2014

Gigs of 2013

Something I read today brought me up sharp:  ‘And isn’t the whole point of things – beautiful things – that they connect you to some larger beauty? … if a painting really works down to your heart and changes the way you see, and think, and feel, you don’t think “Oh I love this painting because it speaks to all mankind”… (you love it because) it’s the secret whisper from an alleyway. Psst, you. Hey kid. Yes you. I was painted for you.’   So said one of the unforgettable characters in Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch.   And so I think it is with great performances, they seem to speak to you, not in generalities or technicalities, but in something you know you will treasure, that you were meant to treasure.  This thought prompts my Gigs of 2013, some of which I have written about in this blog.

There was a late night set at Cheltenham in May, a good piano and the best of Edition – Dave Stapleton, Marius Neset, Neil Yates and Daniel Herskedal.  A sublime hour, made memorable by the obvious weariness of Marius, gently swaying on his feet (he had had a very long day of an earlier gig in Brighton), and yet transcending that exhaustion with the most beautiful sounds, not the full-blowing Marius we knew, but a more delicate one. Afterwards, when I saw him in the foyer and briefly thanked him, saying his performance had moved me, he listened so attentively and humbly, as if I had something of value to say. I will never forget that moment.

At the sight of Chris Bowden walking up the stairs at Stratford Jazz in September, all anxiety of whether he would turn up vanished, he looked so happy. For two hours he scampered around the stage like a court jester with a saxophone, wittily and wholeheartedly commenting on the other musicians around him, all signs of illness and weakness forgotten, just glad to be on the stage playing music he loved. To celebrate the evening, Chris had burned what he called a bootleg of his earlier performances with Stratford Jazz, tracks by Monk, and Brecker and friends.  Because it meant so much to him, the gig meant much to everyone who was there.

A beautiful duo between Dave Stapleton on a Steinway and Neil Yates on trumpet at St Georges Brandon Hill in February, a reworked Henryk.   In the clear cool surroundings of that venue, we heard the music afresh. The video below is from the track on the album Flight but its heartbreaking beauty was rendered human by Dave and Neil on piano and trumpet.

Obviously I must mention the launch of Maciek Pysz‘s debut album Insight  at The Forge in May.   Not only is this my album of 2013, I think it is quite possibly my gig of the year, its beauty took me by surprise. I could not wait to get the album home and into my heart so I could conjure it up in my memory whenever I want to.  The whole occasion was full of joy, of connection between musicians and with us.  It’s why you make the effort to turn out for live music, that somehow, the very act of your listening is adding to the experience of everyone else, that it has mattered that you are there.

And as I end 2013, I eagerly anticipate next year – already tipping Reverie at Schloss Elmau by Gwilym Simcock and Yuri Goloubev (on ACT)  to enter my albums of 2014 and no doubt that will be reinforced by seeing them live next year.  And at Stratford Jazz we host what I am calling  A Festival of the Guitar– starting with TG Collective, then John Law’s Boink! (which has a guitar), Maciek Pysz and finally Phil Robson. Different styles and temperaments, but all capable of conjuring up beauty and enhancing my life in unexpected ways. Thank you everyone I have heard this year, you have made that connection.

Mary James 22 December 2013

Review – Cheltenham Jazz Festival 3-6 May 2013

One week on, Cheltenham Jazz Festival still glows in my mind, it was extraordinary on so many counts: the crowds who filled every cranny of the festival site; the buzz at every gig, whether for established artists like Gregory Porter or newcomers with colossal confidence like George Montague; the intimacy of the Parabola; the masterclasses and interviews, but most of all, the truly moving and touchingly modest performances. Not modest in delivery of course, we had world class sounds, but self effacing and genuine when met, fleetingly, after a gig or seen around the festival.

I found myself with tears in my eyes on several occasions. First was Gregory Porter and his St Nick’s Pub Band from Harlem. Did his band ever think they would tour the world, could they believe their luck? Clearly at home in the Big Top, and with an adoring audience, his new song No Love Dying is stunning. Surely this is his next Grammy nomination? In a masterclass Gregory told us he was an optimist, that he took the symbols of death – broken mirrors, birds in the house, drooping flowers in a vase – and flipped them so they were about life and love. Whether heard in a huge venue or a tiny tent, this song has the power to affect. Here it is performed backstage at Cheltenham:

Then came folk singer Heather Masse with Dave Douglas. When simple hymns and folk tunes are sung well they really strike home, go straight to the heart. I loved Heather’s haunting delicacy in Be Still my Soul, a favourite hymn of Dave’s mother, and supported by Dave’s infectious joy of performance and sharing. It’s not just the words that move

Be still, my soul: the Lord is on thy side.
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain.
Leave to thy God to order and provide;
In every change, He faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul: thy best, thy heavenly Friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.

It was Dave’s haunting trumpet which transported us beyond a vale of tears to something we can smile about through those tears.

Finally was Marius Neset’s performance in a sublime evening gig with the Edition Quartet. Yes, we had all been blown away by him the previous evening with his quartet’s performance of the album of the year, Birds. The sheer physicality and power of Marius’s blowing leaves you breathless, exhilarated. Here is a short clip, filmed by Olivia Dickeson, for Edition Records, leaving you in no doubt about his prowess:

But on Saturday night we saw another Marius (last glimpsed in Flight by Dave Stapleton at St George’s Brandon Hill last year), unexpectedly fragile, human, reflective. Just as a Michelangelo sculpture moves us as its strength appears out of simple form (I am thinking of his unfinished Slaves here), so Marius has the same effect on me. The Edition Quartet is a perfect ensemble – Dave Stapleton on piano, Neil Yates on trumpet, Daniel Herskedal on tuba and Marius on saxophones. Dave’s masterpiece Flight took on a new life in this smaller ensemble, the tuba adding an unexpected eeriness.

At Cheltenham I expected to be entertained, I knew I would probably laugh at witticisms (several false ends in Kit Downes’s new composition, The General in a staggering, hugely enjoyable Troyk-estra), gasp at virtuosity again and again, be challenged and made to think, but my abiding memory is being touched by simple words, heartfelt performances, unforgettable melodies, haunting fragile sounds. And that’s what I love most about jazz.

Review: Marius Neset – Birds – released March 2013

So, just how do you follow up a five star album and rave reviews for your live performances? Well, with another five star album of course. And that’s what Marius Neset has done with Birds, released shortly on Edition Records. If anything, Birds is even more joyous and expansive than Golden Xplosion, the cover photo of a leaping-for-joy Marius does more than hint at his energy and youth, it proclaims that being alive is the most precious thing we all have. There are tracks of exuberance and tracks as delicate as a feather, they fuse and meld creating a very satisfying mix. When you have listened to this album, I dare you not to feel happy and optimistic.

Marius has assembled a super-group – the flawless members of Phronesis plus Jim Hart on vibes. And a supporting crew that includes an accordion, his sister Ingrid (a flute virtuoso) and Daniel Herskedal (recently heard with Marius on Neck of the Woods which I reviewed last year). Marius composed all the compositions, it is through-composed and he knew exactly what it would sound like before it was recorded. Yet each musician sounds himself, nothing is forced or artificial. Maybe it is because they can read each other’s minds?

Bird sounds, motifs and allusions infuse this album from the triumphant and joyous title track to the close. All the rhythms of a bird’s life are here from quiet feeding to noisy roosting. Take the climax to Reprise – you can hear a flock of birds taking off, thousands of flapping wings, then suddenly they are gone. There are birds that sound like parrots or parakeets. Jasper’s bass is a strong, strutting crow in Birds, yet warm in The Place of Welcome alongside Jim’s most delicate vibes. Ivo’s piano is a nightingale’s song at twilight.

The celestial, moving, Math of Mars is like looking into a starry sky, a myriad galaxies stretch out for ever, it is a wonderful near-climax to an album which teems with gems and gently slides into the closing Fanfare with military drum beat and reeds. All the glossy birds line up for a farewell, they trill, preen themselves. whistle, squawk, bicker raucously and show off in glorious colour. It’s fantastic fun and we are so fortunate to eavesdrop on it.

Marius will be touring to promote the album from April onwards. I, for one, will be looking forward to seeing him at Cheltenham Jazz Festival on 3 May 2013, I think it could be my gig of the festival. It is already in my top 5 albums for 2013.

Marius Neset

Marius Neset, tenor and soprano saxophones, and all compositions

Ivo Neame, piano

Jasper Høiby, bass

Anton Eger, drums

Jim Hart, vibes

and many others


Birds is available on Edition Records http://www.editionrecords.com/ and other stores

Review: Daniel Herskedal and Marius Neset – Neck of the Woods – released Aug 2012

I was wondering how to sum up the feelings prompted in me by this interesting new album.  On Twitter I posted one word – sublime.  I think I have another three words inspired by Shakespeare ” …a dying fall”.    If you never knew what that meant, then listen to this album and you may find they make sense. This album is the latest from the Edition mine of beautiful music. The cover is lovely, the CD itself is a work of art with delicate snowy patterns on it.  Norwegians Daniel Herskedal on tuba and Marius Neset on saxophones are supported by the Svanholm Singers from Sweden.  This is not just everyday Scandinavian melancholy, no there’s humour and playfulness here, wistfulness and peace within its forty minutes.  It creates a very special mood, not one to easily classify, not least because of the unusual pairing of instruments.  I think it will grow on you.  Most of the compositions are by Daniel except for The Wedding by Abdullah Ibrahim.

Marius literally blew us off our feet last year with his Golden Xplosion tour and album. He’s spellbinding in performance, you can feel heat, there is so much energy in the room emanating from him.   His saxophone seems to float, it’s a living thing almost.  I recently saw him at Pizza Express where he surprised even himself at the tempo he played City on Fire, blisteringly fast.  I also saw him at St Georges Brandon Hill (see my review of Dave Stapleton’s Flight) where he revelled in the perfect acoustic.  But it’s not just technique or virtuosity you remember with Marius, it’s passion and fire, the sheer joy of performance.

The first and title track Neck of the Woods will leave you spellbound,  Marius and Daniel have created a piece of heartbreaking beauty.  The gorgeous swoops of Marius’s sax, the feather-light tuba supporting it, the voices, some subtle electronics – they all work together.

Eg er Framand shows off the beautiful solo voice of Hallvar Djupvik.  If I can trust an online translation of this song it is “I am a pilgrim who will stay only one night here. I seek the City of God where sorrow & death are no more. Dear Lord, lead me to Heaven’s shore.”   So I feel a bit more comfortable with my initial impression of this album, it is a bit melancholy and full of lamentation.

But it’s balanced by some pastoralism and the magic we heard on Golden Xplosion’s Angel of the North (about a fjord) we hear on this album.  If Golden Xplosion was urban, then this album is pure Norwegian fjord.   The light, clear voices of the choir add to the feeling of space, coolness and echo.  The Christmas Song’s haunting melody will be part of my Christmas from now on. If I need snow and moonlight on Christmas Eve, here it is in this charming composition by Daniel.

The final track, The Wedding by Abdullah Ibrahim, is played so delicately and ends so gently, you wonder if you are dreaming.   Here is the dying fall I started with, it just floats off into the distance, leaving you to savour a very pleasant feeling of Scandinavian melancholy.

Neck of the Woods - Daniel Herskedal & Marius Neset

You can see Marius and Daniel at the Edition Records Festival at Kings Place on Sunday 16 September 2012 at 2pm. I cannot wait!

You can also see them at St Georges Brandon Hill on 17 September and at Dempseys in Cardiff on 18 September (supporting Asaf Sirkis).