The claim on the postcard that accompanies saxophonist Marius Neset's second CD is straightforward: "This album will simply blow you away!" A spot of marketing hubris, perhaps, but there are plenty of moments when Golden Xplosion matches this bold statement.
Neset is a member of two of leading composer and musician Django Bates' ensembles, stoRMChaser and Human Chain, and has studied with the pianist at the Rhythmic Music Conservatory, in Copenhagen. Bates has a strong presence on Golden Xplosion but Neset is the man in charge, writing or co-writing all of the tunes and taking the musical center stage with impressive instrumental skill.
This is an album of two distinct moods: a full-on, high energy powerhouse approach, and a quieter, more reflective and gentle style. The powerhouse side is represented by tunes such as "City On Fire" and the funky "The Real Ysj." Neset shows his strength and drive on these tracks. Bassist Jasper Høiby and drummer Anton Eger do much the same; Høiby creating bass lines of such force that it seems as if he's doing his best to rip the strings off the instrument.
Another distinguishing feature of these tunes is the emphatic presence of Bates' electric keyboards. He adds seemingly multiple layers of sound, making the ensemble sound like a big band, rather than a quartet. There are times, the closing minutes of "City On Fire" for example, when the quartet harks very clearly back to the heady days of Bates' '80s outfit, Loose Tubes, and things get a little too overwhelming.
Treading the middle ground between high energy and reflection is "Shame Us," a Neset and Eger co-composition for tenor saxophone, bass and drums. It's a funky, danceable number on which Høiby's muscular style is once again a highlight.
Neset's gentler numbers give the saxophonist more space, enabling him to show a subtler and more nuanced mode of playing. Høiby and Eger make the transition from hard-hitting rhythms to more graceful and relaxed grooves with ease. Bates' piano phrases fit the spaces between Neset's own, rather than layering the sound across the tune. The melody-rich "Sane" epitomizes this side of Neset's playing, while the freer approach of "Old Poison (XL)" and "Saxophone Intermezzo" is refreshingly uncluttered.
Introducing: Golden Xplosion; Golden Xplosion; City On Fire; Sane; Old Poison (XL); Shame Us; Saxophone Intermezzo; The Real Ysj; Saxophone Intermezzo II; Angel Of The North; Epilogue.
Marius Neset: soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone, piano (10); Django Bates: piano, keyboards, Eb Horn; Jasper Høiby: double bass; Anton Eger: drums.