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Marius Neset: Norwegian Woods

Ian Patterson By

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Marius Neset has become one of today's most talked-about saxophonists since the release of Golden Xplosion (Edition Records, 2011). The album, which also features pianist/keyboardist Django Bates, bassist Jasper Hoiby and drummer Anton Eger, has received widespread five-star reviews, and countless superlatives have been used to heap praise on the 26-year-old from Bergen. Neset has been described as the most important Norwegian saxophonist since Jan Garbarek and has been compared to tenor great Michael Brecker, which may be high praise or millstone. What's sure is that in a very short time, Neset has emerged as one of Europe's most exciting young jazz talents and a major draw.

Neset got his wings at Copenhagen's Rhythmic Music Conservatory, and he couldn't have enrolled at a better time. In 2005, the RMC appointed English pianist/keyboard player and composer Django Bates as its first Professor of Rhythmic Music, to raise the Conservatory's international profile and, naturally enough, to cultivate excellence. Bates soon recognized Neset's talent and recruited him for his StoRMChaser big band, which went on to record Spring is Here (Shall We Dance?) (Lost Marble, 2008). Bates—who has described Neset as "an astonishing saxophonist"—also invited Neset to join his small ensemble Human Chain. Now that's praise.

Since 2005, Neset's main concern has been Jazz Kamikaze, one of the most original-sounding quintets on the contemporary jazz scene. The Return of JazzKamikaze (Stunt/Sundance, 2012), the band's fourth recording, could well be its most adventurous to date, and it signals a return to a sound that resembles the band's first two albums, following the pop-rock vocal experiment of Supersonic Revolutions (Seven Seas Music, 2010).

Neset's latest project is Neck of the Woods (Edition Records, 2012), a captivating duo recording with tuba player Daniel Herskedal that explores a region somewhere between Norwegian folkloric music and the ambience of sacred music. It's perhaps Neset's most significant musical statement to date and provides further confirmation, as if any more were needed, that a major new voice in jazz/contemporary music has entered stage center.

All About Jazz: Marius, Neck of the Woods is a quite beautiful, adventurous album. Can you tell us about its genesis?

Marius Neset: Myself and tuba player Daniel Herskedal had the idea to do something together, because we had played together in many different settings before, including [keyboardist] Django Bates' StoRMChaser, but we wanted to do something together that was just the two of us. We arranged a concert in a church as a duo, where we mostly improvised, as we hadn't prepared that much. Our instruments sounded really good together, and we thought we should do something more together.

We came up with the idea of an album, but we wanted something more than just a duo, but instead of using instruments like piano, keyboards or organ, we instead wanted a big choir to give the music a sacred feeling. That was how it came about.

AAJ: You and Daniel met at the Rhythmic Music Conservatory in Copenhagen, which seems to produce a lot of very good creative musicians. What's special about studying there?

MN: I studied there for seven years, actually. First I did a Masters, and then I studied as a soloist for two years. The good thing about the RMC is that there are a lot of students from many countries and many different types of musicians. It's easy to find people there who you can work together with very well, like drummer Anton Eger and a couple of others, like Magnus Hjorth, Petter Eldh and Daniel [Herskedal]. We would practice a lot together, and it was a really inspiring environment to be in. I met Daniel there and half of the JazzKamikaze there, so it's a really creative place to be.

It was great when I was at the RMC because Django Bates was a music professor there, and I had a lot of contact with him, playing music with him, and he was also a teacher in my solo class, so I learned a lot from him. And of course, I played on his album Spring is Here (Shall We Dance?), so it was a great time for me to be there.

AAJ: You mention Bates' big band. That must have been a very exciting band to be a part of, no?

MN: Django is a really fantastic musician and composer, and very inspiring to play with and be around. Playing with him every week, of course it has an effect on you. The way he played affected my playing very much. I became a much more creative player and composer just by playing with him.

AAJ: Do you have any ambitions to lead your own big band, along the lines of StoRMChaser?

MN: Maybe not my own big band in that way, though actually, my next album has a bigger lineup with sometimes up to 12 musicians playing. I also did a project with the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra where I composed music that I played with the orchestra at Molde Jazz [2012]. We are planning a big tour with the project in the fall, 2013.

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