Marius Neset / Trondheim Jazz Orchestra - Lion
(ACT 9031-2. CD review by Eric Ford)
It's hard to imagine many cities as small as Trondheim (population 181,513) producing and maintaining a large contemporary jazz ensemble of this quality. The equivalent in the U.K. might be York - also a cathedral / university city in the north, population 197,800.
Interestingly, the city, also home to a renowned music conservatoire, has done it by using presumably the best guys in town (4 saxes including guest, saxophone star Marius Neset, 2 trumpets, 1 trombone, tuba, accordion, piano,acoustic bass and drums doubling tuned percussion) and writing music for this combination instead of seeking 5 saxes, 4 trumpets etc and assembling a library of Sammy Nestico or Maynard Ferguson charts.
Commissioning Marius Neset to write the music for this album was another smart move. It certainly doesn't resemble a traditional big band cd ; a lot of the time, it's easy to forget that this is a large ensemble recording at all ! Which is not to say that it isn't used to great effect, because it is.The flow between duo, trio, solo and all other sections is exceedingly well-orchestrated and just sweeps you along from one surprise to the next. The usual adjectives applied to Scandi-jazz , such as "dark", "brooding" or "glacial", definitely do not apply here. Neset's own description - "energetic, wild and colourful" - sums it up nicely. You could say it's a bit short on memorable melody (other than in the lovely ballad Raining) but the strength of form, concept, creativity, rhythm and energy is really impressive.
All the musicians sound great (and recording engineer August Wanngren did a great job too) but if I had to single out one person it'd be bassist Petter Eidh, who plays like a man possessed. The influence of Neset's teacher and mentor Django Bates shines through on occasion, which is no bad thing. If you like surprises and unusual textures and rhythms in your large contemporary jazz ensembles, this CD is for you !
It might actually be worth living somewhere that's in darkness a quarter of the year, and where a beer costs a tenner, to have an ensemble like this on your doorstep.