Review: Marius Neset in Paris

It was the eve of the Fête de la Musique, but Michael Tucker found audiences sparse at Paris jazz concerts by Marius Neset and Christian Brenner

Friday 21st June is a special day in the calendar of French music, with major cities and many other towns participating in the national Fête de la Musique.

Anticipation of this event may have had something to do with the surprisingly low turnout for the French debut of the Norwegian-born but Danish-domiciled Marius Neset (pictured), who appeared at Paris’s Sunset club on Thursday 20th June with his current band of Ivo Neame (piano), Jesper Hoiby (bass) and Anton Eger (drums).

It was a debut which found the technically outstanding but also poetically aware Neset featuring tenor and soprano to both variegated and well-balanced purpose, in two now scorching, now reflective sets of original material taken mostly from his recent albums Golden Xplosion and Birds.
Eschewing traditional legato pleasures of triplet-based swing, the quartet built intricate cross-rhythmic patterns and extensive melodic lines to both sharply etched and spacious effect, with bassist Hoiby (looking at times uncannily like a close cousin of Jaco Pastorius) supplying judiciously apportioned, strongly articulated pizzicato figures to complement Eger’s edgy drive and Neame’s ever-attentive, often full-bodied lyricism. There were a couple of striking solo tenor excursions from Neset, one using a pedal harmonizer to evocative, somewhat Garbarek-like rubato effect before turning into an increasingly urgent duo with Eger.

It’s much to Neset’s credit that, while the fiercely focused energy and sheer joy in playing that he showed throughout made me think of the young Garbarek of 40-plus years ago, this engagingly literate and ultra-committed player is clearly developing his own highly intelligent and often dramatically cast voice. The pleasingly wide dynamic range he exploits on both horns seems to have much more in common with the rich and oblique harmonic/rhythmic intelligence evident in the music of e.g. Michael Brecker and Wayne Shorter, Sam Rivers and Django Bates than it does with the folk-rinsed moods of his famous compatriot.

Played with great verve, the music of Neset and his companions was met with considerable enthusiasm – by a crowd of all of 20 people, a situation Neset handled with both dignity and good humour. “I kind of expected this,” he said to me afterwards. “We haven’t had anything like the press coverage in France that we have been lucky enough to have had in Britain and Germany, for example. And the people who did come out were great; there was a very nice, strong feeling in the room, which made it a real pleasure for all of us to play. So we’re certainly looking forward to coming back!”

The next evening, Paris was awash with music (as it had been throughout the day). Amidst all the blues, rap and reggae, folk songs and Django riffs that spilled into the night air, I made my way to one of the best club venues in the city, the Café Laurent bar at the Hotel Aubusson. A stone’s throw from the Seine, this Left Bank venue has a long and important jazz history and once housed the famous Tabu Club.

For many years now, Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings have featured pianist Christian Brenner and his trio, plus invited guests. For the very reasonable price of one drink, you can enjoy three sets of freshly conceived modern mainstream music: the personnel of Brenner’s trio changes from time to time and arrangements are worked out quickly and unobtrusively on the little stage, set in an intimate and comfortable lounge which can house around thirty to forty people.

In the summer of 2006 JJ contributor Richard Palmer wrote a warmly appreciative piece for Jazz Journal on Brenner, a sensitive and highly knowledgeable pianist who counts Bill Evans and Kenny Barron among his favourites. I’ve been listening to Brenner and his various groups and guests for over a decade and I have yet to have a disappointing evening. This visit proved no exception: with the Portsmouth-born but long French-domiciled guitarist Hugo Lippi joining Brenner, Gilles Naturel (bass) and Yves Nahon (drums), a crowd no less than half as large again as that which had turned out for Marius Neset (work it out for yourself) were treated to both pinpoint and fresh treatments of original up-tempo modern blues and evergreens such as Gone With The Wind, Love For Sale, Moonlight In Vermont and Someday My Prince Will Come.

Like Brenner, Lippi has a considerable reputation on the Paris scene, working in many contexts, and throughout, his Dupont hollow-bodied electric delivered elegant, engaging lines of consummate harmonic intelligence, melodic grace and rhythmic kick. A special feature of the evening was the pleasing number of times that Naturel (an excellent bassist who can count Benny Golson and Joe Lee Wilson among his many associates) employed arco bass in a series of beautifully weighted  – and always in tune – solos, including an especially smile-inducing excursion on the concluding combination of Parker’s Confirmation with Davis’s The Theme.

Numerate readers will have worked out that, at a time that Paris was celebrating music of every persuasion, a total of fifty listeners, or thereabouts, came out to hear sets of contemporary and modern mainstream jazz that I would rate as some of the most stimulating and literate music anyone could wish to hear. Little wonder that jazz musicians are said to be a tough breed…

Photo by Brian Payne

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