Marius Neset & The Trondheim Jazz Orchestra, Ronnie Scott’s, London – review

Marius Neset is a high-energy Norwegian saxophonist who knits together a patchwork of influences with tight phrasing, tough articulation and jaw-dropping fluency. And with the disciplined 11-piece Trondheim Jazz Orchestra, he has an ensemble to match.

At this two-set gig, his three showcase set-pieces started as spacious, airy ruminations, moved through warm-toned, edge-of-harmony modernism and peaked with machine-gun staccatos, hard-edged leaps and high, split-note phonics. Standing centre stage, he was a commanding presence, rocking ever more furiously in time to the rhythm, and, still in the zone, cueing the brass with a brief, over-the-shoulder backward glance. They entered with hard-edged, convoluted riffs or skin-tight, off-kilter stabs before a harmonised whisper or a slurred, drawn-out moan signalled a rare moment of calm.

Neset first worked with The Trondheim Jazz Orchestra on a commission for the 2012 Molde Jazz Festival – the music was later studio recorded and released on the CD Lion – and it was this repertoire that was presented tonight. Neset’s compositions bear the stamp of his mentor, the UK pianist/composer Django Bates; with each piece crossing genres and changing tack at will, his music is equally demanding.

The first set opened with bucolic soprano sax, wispy accordion and the tub-thumping drums of a village dance. The following “Sacred Universe” conjured tumbleweeds blowing through a ghost town, while in the second set, the lovely theme of “Raining”, played on a tuba, captured the warmth of a gentle shower. But the fallback position was a dense web of cross-rhythms, trills and twiddles delivered at death-defying speed and urged on by the powerful angular lines of bassist Petter Eldh.

For the most part, Neset was ensconced with the brass section, and, like other soloists, had to thread his way awkwardly to the front of the stage. He wasn’t the only star turn. Trumpeter Eivind Lønning emerged from brass-band sonorities to deliver modernist swagger, circular breathing and fluttering electronics. A single early feature for accordionist Jovan Pavlovic whetted the appetite more, while saxophonist Hanna Paulsburg delivered warm, muscular balladry.

But this was very much an ensemble display, full of tricky rhythms, interlocking parts and sudden blares that, though relentless at times, deserved its encore.

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