Lion is an epic undertaking: originally conceived on stage, most of the eight tracks were impeccably burnished in the studio for this ACT recording, yet the immediacy of what is fresh is omnipresent.
The eight numbers are a combination of commissioned material and rearrangements from earlier outings – Birds and Golden Xplosion – though I might have been tempted to open Lion with Interlude, which comes in under a minute, followed by Weight of the World, which I would exchange with either the new version of Golden Xplosion, or Lion.
Why? Interlude features the most sumptuous of sax solos, like a flame lingering, and is instantly addictive: imagine Gustav Metzger’s liquid crystal experiments transmuted as music. Neset places it as an entr’acte, but it stands on its own two feet. Weight of the World is the flip side of the coin: a composition for a small orchestra.
Just 29, Neset is a restless composer, always seeking new turf to explore, and he has this commendable and selfless knack of composing pieces to challenge and bring out the best of individual musicians within the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra.
With this in mind, Weight of the World epitomises the juxtaposition which filters through earlier tracks, particularly Lion, with exclamatory exchanges between Neset and, I guess, Peter Fuglsang, with a bloody good beat from Petter Eldh on bass and Gard Nilssen on drums.
With a flick, Neset can change the mood from glad to almost sadness, and the atmospheric Raining is a gorgeous ballad, cinematic in its reach, driven not by any of the four sax musicians on show, but by a delicate onomatopoeic piano from Espen Berg, an afternoon lullaby for lovers, brought to shore by Fuglsang’s clarinet. Exquisite.
On Lion, the second longest composition, the orchestra swings in turns and roundabouts, Neset making full use of the brass components, paying homage to his early devotion to percussion, feeding noir jazz-inspired punctuation into his busy rhythm-pattern layering.
As a composer, Neset has the technique of making a single saxophone sound like two or three (Lion features soprano sax, tenor sax, alto sax and baritone sax), changing tempo in the space of a phrase, and as such the individuality of the musicians is not lost in the tidal sweep of a big band.
With Lion, Neset’s intention was music that is energetic, wild and colourful, but it is also at times frankly gorgeous and always surprising: cue Eldh’s bass which switches Sacred Universe into another gear, with blustery almost late Coltrane-like notes from Neset, and a brilliant coda, a glorious outpouring of warmth from the ensemble.