The signs were there in his 2013 recording Lion, when Marius Neset assembled some of the best Scandinavian musicians (Trondheim Jazz Orchestra) to compose new music for the Molde Jazz Festival.
What interested Neset was his musical identity playing almost second fiddle to his role as a composer for other musicians: even though he was writing for a large band, he saw them instead as a dozen strong musical personalities.
Neset is one of those composer-arranger type musicians who applies an organic philosophy towards recording, much like when he is playing live: in other words, with Lion he was attracted by the idea of seeing the music evolve in the hands of the musicians, who upon sight-seeing the parts swiftly metamorphosed into natural playing.
The approach on the excellent Snowmelt, eleven Neset compositions, with due homage to classical composers, is somewhat similar, but the playing is tighter, more controlled, and the recording has the feel of a project with a beginning, a middle and an end. This time he is with the London Sinfonietta, known for their commitment to pushing the boundaries outside of classical music with artists like Jaga Jazzist and Squarepusher.
Where Snowmelt is also a planet apart from Lion is ambition and scale: Neset’s 239 pages of orchestral score are carefully planned and executed, meticulous in their attention to the smallest of details and brimming with effervescence, contrast and inventiveness. The origins of Snowmelt come from a 15 minute piece for solo saxophone and Chamber Orchestra and five singers, commissioned in 2013.
Naturally, Neset’s playing is quite magnificent, lending impressive refinement and depth of tone to, ironically, the chaos and dissonance of the narrative-laden tracks, while also being drawn to lyricism and tenderness (Arches of Nature: Circles and Arches of Nature: Rainbow).
Even listening casually to Snowmelt, as Neset intended, it would seem that some themes are occasionally anchored around the same melodic hooks as Mahler’s Tenth Symphony and Stravinsky’s Circus Polka, though my ears here and there detected Ennio Morricone.
What is refreshing about Neset, and remember the theme of balancing order and chaos is an ongoing issue within his famous quartet (Petter Eldh, Anton Eger and Ivo Neame), is how he takes a single melodic line and puts it through a kaleidoscope of permutations and multiplicity of moods, and the result for the listener is a sense of progress as the imagination is made physical by the Sinfonietta, brilliant at framing the movements with engaging fluency. Quite magical.