Saxophonist Marius Neset is yet another jazz musician who is widely respected in Europe but barely on the radar in the United States. At 36, he has already made nine noteworthy records on two European labels, Edition and ACT. His claims to fame are his electric chops (most apparent in small-group recordings like Pinball) and his ambitious creativity as a composer (most apparent in projects like Viaduct, with the London Sinfonietta, a chamber orchestra).
A New Dawn is that rare, risky venture for any saxophone player, including Neset: a solo album. In January 2021, when the pandemic was imposing individual isolation upon the world, on a sunny, very cold Norwegian day, Neset went into a studio near his home in Oslo. He played by himself and let the tape run, with no overdubs or effects.
The most successful pieces are the first and last, “A New Creation” and “Theme from Every Little Step,” where Neset pursues a single line of melodic thought through myriad permutations. The silence surrounding his instrument allows the complex beauty of his tenor sound, and the humanity of that sound’s source, his breath, to stand in stark relief.
But most tracks attempt to approximate a full ensemble, overlaying “parts”: rhythmic bassline blasts; top-line melodies and subordinate countermelodies; harmonies implicit in fluttering arpeggios. “Morning Mist” is even derived from the opening of Witold Lutosławski’s Concerto for Cello and Orchestra. The virtuosity is undeniable, as Neset becomes the sections of a philharmonic ensemble. Most saxophonists should not try this at home. But such performances are achievements more technical and acrobatic than aesthetic and emotional.
If you are building a library of Marius Neset recordings (which would be a fine thing to do), A New Dawn is the album to acquire last.