The title of Marius Neset's seventh release as leader on the ACT Music label is an optimistic allusion to a post-Covid-19 world and the eventual return to a semblance of normality. But it could also reference a new chapter in the Norwegian saxophonist's career, as A New Dawn
marks his first recording since resettling in Oslo after seventeen years in Copenhagen. In those years, in addition to stirring small ensemble outings, Neset produced breathlessly imaginative, orchestrally-framed albums such as Snowmelt
(2016) and Viaduct
(2019) and the vibrant big-band recordings Lion
(2014) and Tributes
(2020). By contrast, A New Dawn
sees Neset scale down to the bare bones of his tradesolo saxophone.
In some respects, turning inwards in this waystripping away all the rhythmic support and the harmonic layers of his group endeavors is just as bold a move as his immersion in complex charts for jazz and classical ensembles combined. Here, almost every breath or clack of the keys, every overblown note or saliva-rippled wheeze as another expires, is accentuated. There is no hiding place.
Devoid of overdubs, loops or effects, these nine compositionssome originally written specifically for solo saxophone, others for small ensemble or symphony orchestra settings provide a close-up of Neset's musical building blocks. From the purring lyricism of the opener, "A New Creation"first heard on Golden Explosion
, (ACT Music, 2011) his highly impressive debut as leaderNeset's distinctive melodicism is a common denominator throughout. Folk music is one of the veins in Neset's music, particularly on sprightly tunes like "Taste of Spring," where his tenor dances like a Sonny Rollins
calypso, or the sunny, Celtic-sounding reel, "A Day in the Sparrow's Life."
Classical music is another pervasive influence. Neset's more elegiac melodies are at times suggestive of compatriot Edward Grieg, while his hypnotic contrapuntal weaves point to Bach. More overtly, Neset pays homage to Polish classical composer Witold Lotoslawski on "Morning Mist," mirroring the slowly pulsing intro to the 20th century giant's celebrated cello concerto. Here, Neset juggles rhythm and keening melody, his composure punctuated by intermittent blasts of screeching release.
Whether in uninhibited flow, as on the boppish "The Real Ysj," playing tenderly on the quietly chirping "Theme from Manmade" or blurring the lines between riff and melody / lead and comping lines on "Old Poison," a strong rhythmic foundation is the bedrock of Neset's approach. Perhaps this should come as no surprise given that his first instrument, aged just five, was the drums. In fact, there's a danceable groove to much of the music. Neset signs off with "Theme from Every Little Step," a meditation of bluesy hue, whose haunting melancholy seems to draw from all of Neset's principal threads.
Technically impressive as Neset's playing is, it's the breadth and depth of his emotional shading that seduces most on A New Dawn.
A finely balanced offering of nuance, passion and intimacy.
A New Creation: Theme From Manmade; Old Poison (XL); A Taste Of Spring; Brighter Times; A Day In The Sparrow's
Life; Morning Mist; The Real Ysj; Theme From Every Little Step.