Five star album reviews don’t come thick on the ground particularly for newcomers. But Norwegian saxophonist Marius Neset garnered quite a clutch of primo reviews earlier in the year when his debut Golden Xplosion was released.
Last night at the Pizza Express Jazz Club, where the Bergen man appeared for his West End jazz club debut with pianist/keyboardist Nick Ramm, first-among-bassists Jasper Høiby, and fellow Phronesis member, the estimable drummer Anton Eger, showed just what the fuss was all about within minutes of beginning their performance. After all influential Guardian critic John Fordham wrote back in April: “There are plenty of credible heirs to the sax legacy of the late Michael Brecker, but most mimic Brecker’s hurtling virtuosity without adding much colour of their own. Marius Neset, the 25-year-old Norwegian saxophonist who surfaced in the UK last year with Django Bates, not only combines Brecker’s power and Jan Garbarek’s tonal delicacy, but has a vision that makes all 11 originals on this sensational album feel indispensable.” Fordham, who won the Parliamentary Award for jazz journalist of the year just a month after these words were written was not alone. Ray Comiskey in The Irish Times put it like this: “This Norwegian saxophonist will surely be a major figure on the European jazz scene if this astonishing – and astonishingly personal – album is any indication.” The Daily Telegraph also gave it five stars, with Ivan Hewett commenting that Neset "makes his instrument dance like a gazelle and soar like an eagle, and he’s an ingenious composer too.”
So no pressure then! But, when you’re on a roll, you’re on a roll, and Neset, who while making his London jazz club debut as a leader, had actually played as Fordham noted on a London stage before, with his mentor Django Bates at Kings Place last October on a night that was all about birthday candles at Django’s 50th. But last night Neset dazzled relentlessly in the Dean Street basement premises whether on languorous ballads, frenetic 7/4 (into was it 14/8?) stormers, or hymn-like anthems such as the wondrous finale ‘Angel Of The North’. Pity the fan who left the sold-out club early for a leisurely tube ride home. Edition records took a risk on the hitherto unknown Neset, but their faith was more than justified. The concert was recorded for broadcast on BBC Radio 3’s Monday night flagship jazz show Jazz on 3 to go out on 19 September. But what about that wall of sound effect near the end? Definitely a case of needing to tune in. With this Xplosion everything detonated. – Stephen Graham
Marius Neset tour dates include Edge Arts Centre, Shropshire (tomorrow, 3 September); The Earlsdon Cottage Inn, Coventry (6 Sept); South Park Hill, Bracknell (7 Sept); Dempseys, Cardiff (8 Sept); Matt & Phreds, Manchester (9 Sept); and Edition Records Festival, Kings Place, London (10 Sept).