Review: Marius Neset, Southampton

Norwegian saxophone whirlwind Marius Neset has Mike Tucker baying for more, albeit with reservations about poetic deficit

The demands of a recent house move meant I had to miss three promising gigs at Southampton's consistently excellent Turner Sims Hall: a ballad-based duo session from Courtney Pine and Zoe Rahman, a quartet led by vocalist Ian Shaw (which included Mick Hutton on bass) and a piano trio session from Mercury Prize winners GoGo Penguin. Fortunately, I was able to make the 19 March concert by Norwegian saxophonist Marius Neset. Featuring chiefly material from his new ACT album Pinball, Neset offered two (typically) generously conceived and high-energy sets in the company of long-time collaborators Ivo Neame (piano) and Anton Eger (drums) and new band members Jim Hart (vibes, marimba, percussion) and Petter Eldh (bass). Filling the Turner Sims to around a third of its c. 400 seat capacity, the audience loved every minute.

So did I, albeit with one or two minor reservations. If the opening World Song served notice of a pleasingly archetypal concern for the integration of upbeat, dance-inflected ostinato patterns and rippling cross-rhythms and textures, Sane (not from Pinball) and Odes Of You projected a more mellow mood in questing pieces distinguished by a welcome breadth and depth of both phrasing and tone from Neset – who stuck to tenor all night save for two pieces on soprano. Music For Drums And Saxophone found him playing percussively on the tenor's pads throughout, eschewing any usual note production: the results can be enjoyed on the Pinball release, where they are complemented by another freshly conceived piece composed by Eger and Neset, Music For Cello And Saxophone (not heard in the concert). Eldh was solid throughout, while Hart – using four mallets – offered both flowing group colour and some burning lines, his interaction with Eger on the driving Jaguar outstanding. He moved to drums on Odes Of You, bringing additional if hardly essential meditative weight to Eger's finely shaded accents, and generally contributed invigorating, intelligent figures to the music.

In common with the rest of the audience, the ever-building concert closer Summer Dance had me baying for more (and getting it, in the shape of a soprano-led encore which moved from stop-start fragments to some typical, lengthily cast melodies and nudging offset rhythms). So, why the minor reservations? Firstly, I found the usually captivatingly lyrical Neame's contributions on occasion a touch subdued, even anonymous (although it has to be said that few if any in the audience seemed to share that view). Secondly, while one cannot but register positively the post-Brecker technical excellence and sheer stamina evident in the music, I would have welcomed more sustained evidence of the emotional and dynamic diversity evident on the Pinball recording – a maturely conceived, sometimes deeply poetic session. While poetry was in evidence at the Turner Sims, to my ears it tended too often to be overwhelmed by the sort of super-charged athletic intricacy of edgy, cross-phrased motivic development which made me long for some contrasting measures of simple – yet satisfying – triplet-stoked grooves. A really enjoyable evening, nonetheless, from a musician who, turned 30, would seem to be blessed with endless energy – and whose brief yet engaging introductions to many of the pieces went down as well with the highly receptive audience as did his music.

Photo by John Watson

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