“The dynamic jazz saxophonist and London Sinfonietta reunite for a new commission. Following their award-winning collaboration on Neset’s 2016 album Snowmelt, the orchestra and musician join forces once again with his second commission for the ensemble. Viaduct received critical acclaim following its world premiere at Norway’s Kongsberg Jazzfestival in 2018 and was subsequently recorded for general release. Championed by mentor and legendary jazz musician Django Bates, Neset has gained international success with his jazz quintet and performances at Ronnie Scotts. Together the unique energy of Neset’s live performance and the world-class contemporary classical ensemble create a live experience unlike any other.” From Southbank Centre website
Viaduct for jazz quintet & orchestra [UK premiere]
Marius Neset (soprano & tenor saxophones), Ivo Neame (piano), Jim Hart (vibraphone), Petter Eldh (double bass), Anton Eger (drums)
Reviewed by: Julian Maynard-Smith
Reviewed: 21 November, 2019
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Queen Elizabeth Hall
Taking my seat in the Queen Elizabeth Hall I wondered how I’d explain this UK premiere to a concertgoer who knew nothing about it, and realised they’d probably be more confused than before: ‘It features the London Sinfonietta with a saxophone soloist. But it’s not a concerto because it also features the saxophonist’s jazz quintet. But it doesn’t feel like a jazz performance either, because it’s tightly scored and has a symphonic feel at times. But then again, it doesn’t feel completely symphonic because it has jazz solos and improvisation.’
Let’s just call it a jazz-classical amalgam, but one in which it’s possible to hear glints of the styles from which it could have been smelted: serialism here in this spiky melody; minimalism there in the clockwork precision of that rhythmic build; grand romanticism in this sweetly lyrical string passage; film-noirish as the strings grow agitated and the brass blows in; George Gershwin here in this playful jazz-inflected ensemble passage dropping to a clarinet solo like a reverse Rhapsody in Blue; but then restlessly shrugging off the past with breakneck neo-bop and free jazz solos.
The dynamics were impressively wide, ranging from a moment when the strings melted away and the audience seemed to hold its breath to leave a pause of such quietude that we could hear every key clack of one of Neset’s tenor saxophone solos; to the big, bold climax that built so much in volume and tempo that listening to it felt like being spun on a fairground Waltzer ride.
Some passages felt too tightly written to give the soloists the loose rein they needed, and some stylistic shifts felt as abrupt as handbrake turns; but these are minor criticisms for what was overall an astonishingly complex and well played performance.