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.