Geyser is Norwegian saxophonist Marius Neset's third album with new-music ensemble London Sinfonietta. The piece was commissioned for the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall, where this recording was made on September 3, 2022. As on the two previous albums, the Sinfonietta are joined by Neset's high-voltage jazz quintet with pianist Ivo Neame, vibraphonist Jim Hart, bassist Conor Chaplin and drummers Anton Eger.
Geyser is a striking wide-screen work that justifies the use of the frequently abused description "nuanced." Here is why.... In his liner notes, Neset explains that when he began composing the suite, in the autumn of 2021, he had decided that he was done with writing music that reflected the societal and emotional turmoil of the pandemic. The new work would instead be a celebration of optimism and unfettered joy. Much of the first draft was completed by February 2022. Then, that month, Putin launched his invasion of Ukraine. Neset went into shock. When he did eventually begin composing again, he found it impossible to pick up where he had left off. Instead, he revisited what had already been composed and dismantled it, loosening the structure and the tonality in many places, periodically setting up conflicting motor rhythms and introducing a feeling of jeopardy. The result is, he says, "a metaphor for how beauty, pleasantness and safety can so quickly be lost."
As Geyser progress through its eight movements, it shifts gradually from dark to light, dissipating the moody atmosphere in which it begins. But it is only in the final minutes of the closing movement, "Outbreak," that the clouds fully disappear and the sun shines in a clear sky. Optimism has returned, and relief, but not unfettered joy.
Neset seems to be increasingly fascinated by working with large ensembles. His 2022 recording, Manmade (Chandos), features him and the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra only; there is no jazz band. Neset is an inventive orchestral composer and is adept at creating unusual textures, particularly with woodwinds and strings. While we hear plenty of his robust and lyrical tenor on Geyser, we hear relatively little from the jazz quintet, particularly from Ivo Neame or Jim Hart. Partly this is down to the mix (of a live performance with a lot of bleed between instruments), but it is also because Neset's compositional focus is on the orchestra. This is an observation rather than a criticism, and other listeners may, of course, be perfectly happy with the emphasis.
Part 1 Waterfall; Part 2 On Fire; Part 3 Out Of Sight; Part 4 Under The Surface; Part 5 Lava; Part 6 Flow; Part 7 Meeting Magma; Part 8 Outbreak.
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Chris May is a senior editor of All About Jazz. He was previously the editor of the pioneering magazine Black Music & Jazz Review, and more recently editor of the style / culture / history magazine Jocks & Nerds.