…classical-jazz-improvisation symbiosis that bursts through a chaotic and tumultuous universe to reach an ultimately joyful, even romantic, conclusion.
Marius Neset (saxophones); Ivo Neame (piano); Jim Hart (vibraphone/marimba & percussion); Conor Chaplin (bass); Anton Eger (drums); Geoffrey Paterson (conductor); London Sinfonietta Orchestra
When a renowned conductor talks about the “relentless metrical complexity” of a composition then you know you’re in for a challenging listen.
Yet for all the frankly mind-boggling time signatures Marius Neset deploys within ‘Geyser’, the result is a classical-jazz-improvisation symbiosis that bursts through a chaotic and tumultuous universe to reach an ultimately joyful, even romantic, conclusion.
Geoffrey Paterson was asked to conduct this work for the London Sinfonietta which was commissioned for the 2022 BBC Proms, and he “jumped at the invitation” to work with Neset.
The piece’s intention was to express the post-Covid thrill of the return to live music, but Neset felt that he wanted to rewrite some parts in reaction to the darkness that covered Europe at the start of the Russian war in Ukraine. The result, he feels, “reflects how fast life can change from one day to another.”
Certainly, this work rollercoasters through changes in tableaux on an epic scale, juxtaposing metre, instrumentation, genre, timbre… everything… for cinematographic effect.
On a practical level for Paterson, as a conductor working with a classical orchestra and an improvising jazz band, that sense of juggling unexpected changes must really have hit home. Yet you never once feel that any of these musicians are out of their depth.
Neset on tenor and soprano sax is accompanied by well-known friends from the jazz world: Ivo Neame on piano and Jim Hart playing vibraphone, marimba and percussion, against the incredible stamina of Anton Eger on drums and Conor Chaplin on bass, all accompanied by the Sinfonietta orchestra.
Likewise, the London Sinfonietta – never afraid to embrace the extraordinary – knows what to expect from Neset, who lists Stravinsky, Coltrane and Mahler among his influences.
This is their third collaboration together after Snowmelt (2015) and Viaduct (2019) and 2022’s Geyser was commissioned by the BBC Proms and performed at the Royal Albert Hall on 3 September, where this recording took place.
This latest work confirms Neset’s reputation as a prodigious experimental composer. Eight intense movements represent bubbling subterranean tensions which lead to the geyser’s scalding explosion. Whilst there is staccato humour and vivace exuberance, a sense of feroce menace ominously pervades within the orchestration.
Fiendishly bewildering rhythms and tumbling arrangements are all underpinned by Eger at the drum kit with an astounding energy that drives the work ever forward. Shimmering Hitchcock strings and layers of harmony among the wind instruments successfully paint a wild hellscape whilst the vibraphone and saxophone remind us that yes, we are also hearing jazz!
Take the truly magnificent arrangements in On Fire. We begin in a 1950s film noir; the languid tenor solo is set against dramatically dark descending scales from the orchestra. Suddenly a jazzy rhythm section kicks in with an almost latin shuffle, and strings, horns and sax bounce intervals as each takes a turn at the forefront. But before your ears get too used to this, Eger brings in almost rock-style rhythms as joy yields to confusion.
Hitchcock strings impart fear, mirrored by the wailing sax. The motif returns, then percussive ascending notes spiral into orchestral confusion which in turn fade to an ominous marching brass band. Finally, relief arrives as the strings gliss down and out, into a percussion-punctuated silence.
No, this is not easy listening, but boy, does it keep you on your toes.
In the penultimate section – Meeting Magma – we begin in a drafty medieval castle for this celebration piece in which Neset’s tenor sax joyfully flows against a galloping triplet rhythm. Bubbling energy fizzes under the surface and cymbals clash as tension rises.
The marching troops then give way to a piano-led passage with percussion contrasts, bringing a groove which returns to the theme accompanied by heraldic horns.
How will this dazzling composition end? Will joy reign over the brooding cloud of doom, or will a jubilant pyrotechnic display explode into fiery flames?
In Outbreak – the eighth and final part – we sweep back into the 21st Century. The modern rhythm reminds us that Neset is a hugely respected and influential player in the contemporary jazz scene.
The entire second half of this finale is dedicated to building towards the final note, where it is joy that finally overrides fear, as Neset’s sax leads the musicians up, up and away into a full eruption of triumphant orchestral elation and a gloriously proud, sustained note from this brilliant, visionary composer.
And just like the geyser, the audience explodes in rapturous applause.