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Marius Neset/Trondheim Jazz Orchestra: Lion

Ian Patterson By

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Lion is a good name for Marius Neset's first recording with the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra, for like a great cat, the Norwegian orchestra purrs and prowls, roars and pounces. Regardless of tempo—whether cruising or charging—there's majesty in the collective voice. Commissioned for the Molde Jazz Festival in 2012, the momentum from that performance took Neset and this twelve-piece orchestra into the recording studio with spectacular results.

In fourteen years, the TJO has become something of a Norwegian national institution, reaching an ever-greater audience across Europe. Lion is another feather in its cap, following collaborations with Chick Corea, Pat Metheny, Joshua Redman, Kim Myhr and Eirik Hegdal. It also enhances Neset's reputation as one of the most exciting musicians/composers to have emerged in the last decade.

In a 2012 All About Jazz interview Neset spoke of his collaboration with the prolific TJO: "When you write for the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra, you write for twelve individual musicians rather than in the traditional way for a big band. Each individual personality is really attacking the music..."; without a doubt, vibrant attack and bags of personality color the five commissioned compositions plus arrangements of the title tracks from Neset's Golden Xplosion (Edition Records, 2011), the extraordinary Birds (Edition Records, 2013) and "Sacred Universe" from the latter disc.

On the title track, a sotto voce tuba growl and hymnal brass reverie recede under the weight of punchy cross-riffs and a pulsing, multi-voiced motif. Individaul voices—baritone saxophone and accordion—weave their way through Neset's knotty chart, which the TJO sings like the glorious love-child of Frank Zappa and Terry Riley. It's a highly evocative opener that stirs the blood. The metronome goes into double time on "Golden Xplosion," whose rhythmic density and tight-knit patterns give way to small ensemble freedom as Neset unfurls a bustling solo, driven by the powerhouse team of bassist Petter Eldh and drummer Gard Nilssen.

The episodic "In the Ring" shifts between folk-jazz—burrowing trombone and snappy drums—and Balkan wedding fare, as though Rabih Abou-Khalil had passed the baton to Goran Bregovic; Hanna Paulsberg's lyrical tenor solo crowns the slower mid-section before the TJO rekindles the collective flame. Unaccompanied tenor saxophone announces "Sacred Universe," a strikingly melodic anthem that juxtaposes small ensemble, John Coltrane-esque acoustic jazz and swirling big-band bravura. Hegdal's head-shaking, dog-with-a-bone baritone solo sets the tone for "Weight of the World"; Espen Berg's gently undulating piano sews the seeds for the beat-heavy, thumping brass riff-cum-searing saxophone section that leans towards the Flat Earth Society's big-band iconoclasm.

Daniel Herskedal's aching tuba on the ruminative "Raining" evokes Neck of the Woods (Edition Records, 2012), his haunting folk/sacred music collaboration with Neset. A wild and impassioned version of "Birds," with Neset and the TJO sailing nine sheets to the wind, closes the set on a powerful, triumphant high.

The TJO's potent interpretation of Neset's unique charts makes for a visceral, lyrical and highly infectious ride; it could hardly be otherwise with a summit meeting between one of the great modern jazz orchestras and, in Neset, one of jazz's brightest young all-rounders. Hugely satisfying.

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