It's not just the breath-taking scope and depth of saxophonist/composer Marius Neset's ACT Music releases, Lion (2014), Snowmelt (2016) and now Circle of Chimes (2017) that's remarkable, but the fact that such powerful waves of music have come from the thirty-two-year old Norwegian in the span of just three years.
Stylistically diverse as they are, these recordings can be seen together as signposts along the way of Neset's probing journey into terrain where labels seem increasingly inadequate. So too, it must be said, the critical framework within which Neset has mostly been appraised for the past decadethat's to say, chief heir to the tenor tradition of Jan Garbarek and Michael Breckerfor Circle of Chimes adds substantial weight to the argument that the Norwegian should perhaps also be recognised as one of the most exciting of modern composers.
Once more, Neset surrounds himself with his Pinball (ACT Music, 2015) quintet partners of Ivo Neame, Anton Eger, Petter Eldh and Jim Hart. Their intuitive understanding of Neset's frequently complex rhythms is an essential component of music that whilst artfully through-composed, still burns with a raging intensity, notably so on "A New Resolution," where bluesy romanticism gradually gives way to some fiendish ensemble interplay, with Lionel Loueke prominent in the mix.
The Benin-born musician's pedal-fed guitar and vocals color the music throughout in subtle but tangible ways, not least as an additional thread in the knotty, yet flowing unison lines that are Neset's stock-in-trade. Also part of the rainbow weave is sibling Ingrid Neset's sparkling flute work and Andreas Brantelid's wonderfully dextrous cello. When Neset harnesses the full force of the octet the music roars with orchestral might.
Chiming bells announce the episodic opener "Satellite," and close the circle over an hour later on "Eclipse," with repeating chime-like themes passed around the ensemble baton-style in between. Circle of Chimes undoubtedly has suite-like properties, though all ten pieces have stand-alone strength. Even the piano-cum-cello vignette "Introduction to Prague's Ballet" is more precious stone than mere stepping stone to the baroque charms of "Prague's Ballet," a sublime exercise in harmonic flight and rhythmic counterpoint that evokes the folk-tinged classical work of Heitor Villa-Lobos.
Neset's compositional sophistication is measured, however, not so much in the dazzlingly intricate, rhythmically vibrant ensemble passages of a tune like "Star," as in the sweeping emotional arc of the hour-plus rollercoaster as a whole; intimate lyricism, ecstatic celebration, unabashed melodicism a la Pat Metheny ("Life Goes On"), hypnotic minimalism ("1994") and bursts of gnarly, hard-swinging post-bop are all part of the fabric. There's also plenty of Neset the tenor/soprano magician to enjoy, shaking and gnawing the musical bone for all he's worth.
At root, however, it's Neset's canny orchestration of tension and release that makes Circle of Chimes, arguably his most personal and complete recording to date, so compelling from first chime to last.
Satellite; Star; A New Resolution; Introduction to Prague's Ballet: Prague's Ballet; Life Goes On; Sirens of Cologne; The Silent Room; 1994; Eclipse.
Marius Neset: tenor and soprano saxophones; Ivo Neame: piano; Anton Eger: drums, percussion; Petter Eldh: bass; Lionel Loueke: guitar, vocals; Andreas Brantelid: cello; Ingrid Neset: flute, piccolo, alto flute; Jim Hart: vibraphone, marimba, percussion.
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