Marius Neset: Norwegian Woods
MN: Yes, we're planning to release a CD, probably sometime next year.
AAJ: That's great news. The Trondheim Jazz Orchestra, in a relatively short frame of time, about a dozen years, has become something of a Norwegian national institution, having performed with musicians like pianist Chick Corea, guitarist Pat Metheny, saxophonist Joshua Redman and Norwegian artists like Kim Myhr. How did it feel to play your compositions with this orchestra?
MN: It was really great and so different to everything else I had done before. It's never the same lineup. It's different musicians from project to project, and you look for the musicians with the qualities you want for each project, so that was fun. When you write for the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra, you write for 12 individual musicians, rather than in the traditional way for a big band. Each individual personality is really attacking the music in a great way because they are all amazing musicians.
AAJ: We look forward to hearing that recording next year. Let's talk about Neck of the Woods. In essence, a lot of the tunes come across as quite simple musical sketches, but is this simplicity a little deceptive? Were there a lot of takes done to get the music just right?
MN: No [laughs]. For the duo numbers, we normally did only a single take. The choir pieces were a little more produced. We did more takes, and we did more overdubs and things like that. The choir parts and the duo parts were two different kinds of concepts, in a way.
AAJ: The Svanholm Choir sing on three numbers, but was the idea to use them there right from the beginning or did the idea develop as the music developed?
MN: It was not there at the beginning. You're right, it came as we developed the music. We could have used a string orchestra, or we could have used keyboards or organ, but we wanted to have voices on it, as it gives that nice church-like, sacred feeling. It came with the music, and I think it fits the music very well.
AAJ: It's easy to imagine "Christmas Song" getting a lot of radio play at that time of season. It might just have a universal appeal, like "Silent Night," for example.
MN: Yeah, hopefully people will like it.
AAJ: "Swan Island" seems to fall somewhere between classical and hymnal music. How did that composition come about?
MN: That's a piece that I wrote on the piano, and then I arranged it for the choir. That was also not meant to be for a choir in the beginning. It was actually a piece I had in mind for my own band. I wanted to make a song that sounded massive and beautiful, and I think it worked really well with the choir. I had Daniel in my mind when writing this. I wanted to use his extreme range, especially in the high register on the tuba.
AAJ: Herskedal's tuba at just under two minutes into "Swan Island" sounds very sensuous and extremely tender. Could you share your thoughts on what it's like playing with him?
MN: It's very easy to sound good playing with him because our two instruments sound so good together. He can play, as you say, extremely high notes and all the dynamics that go with it, which makes him quite unique. He has a very melodic way of playing the tuba.
AAJ: Another beautiful song is "Eg Er Frammand," sung by Hallvar Djupvik. It's beautiful, but it's also a bit eerie.
MN: That's a folk song that Daniel and I arranged. The singer is not part of the choir; he's an opera singer, actually. We also used some tuba and saxophone overdubs to make the sound bigger. The whole thing is built around this very simple melody.
AAJ: Is this a song that you grew up with?
MN: No, it's not a song that everyone knows. I hadn't heard it before.
AAJ: The song "The Shepherd" sounds like a coda to "Eg Er Frammand." Is there a link in your mind between these two pieces of music?
MN: Yes, I think there is. It's a transition, in a way, from "Eg Er Frammand" to "Ara's Dance."
AAJ: There's a church-like quality to "Preludium" and a folk-like melody on "Ara's Dance." Has Scandinavian church music or folk music been important in the development of the language you use on your saxophone?
MN: Yeah, it's music that I like very much, but it's not something I think about before I start writing.
AAJ: Another folk-influenced song is "Lutra Lutra," though it is clearly inspired by Balkan music. Could you talk about the inspiration for this song?
MN: Yeah, it's very Balkan. Daniel wrote that song. We wanted to do something different. I had never played music like that before, so it was a great experience for me. I had to play it in my own way. It's a very nice composition.
AAJ: "Dragon's Eye" is a tremendously atmospheric composition, both scary because of the breathing and curiously hypnotic.
MN: That's a solo piece by Daniel; I'm actually not playing on that. We wanted to have one solo piece each on this album, and that was his. He can do really extraordinary things with the tuba, though there are a lot of overdubs.