United Kingdom Marius Neset (soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone), Daniel Herskedal (tuba), Dora Stoutzker Hall, Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, Cardiff. 7.2.2016. (GPu)
Until quite recently the idea of an entire jazz concert given over to a duet of tuba and saxophone would have sounded like a piece of goon-show absurdity, on a par with such events as ‘Elvis Presley sings Thelonious Monk’, ‘Ben Webster interprets Webern’ or ‘Jazz Improvisations on Götterdämmerung’. The last few years, however, have seen an increasing amount of jazz played by ensembles infinitely more various than the piano trios, horn quartets and quintets that for so long were the main instrumental idioms of modern jazz. And, of course, there has been a plethora of unaccompanied recordings and concerts by saxophonists, trombonists, bassists et al. In the hearing, this performance by the Norwegians Marius Neset and Daniel Herskedal was a richly satisfying experience and far from offering any cause for laughter – save for the occasional chuckle of sheer joy!
Both Neset and Herskedal possess absolute control of their instruments, everything that they do being technically perfect. Add to that the facts that they both have fertile musical imaginations and that there is a profound empathy between the two, an intuitive unity of direction and intention present in even the most heated improvisations and the recipe is perfect. At times, indeed, listening to the two of them is like listening to some imaginary compound instrument (capable of the depth and gravity of the tuba, the keening agility of the soprano saxophone and the vocalic fluency of the tenor saxophone) played by a single (very gifted!) musician.
The material of their concert was quite various. There were compositions by Iain Ballamy, Abdullah Ibrahim (‘The Wedding’) and Herskedal (e.g. ‘Good Morning Denmark’ and ‘Christmas Song’) as well as Norwegian folk songs. At moments Neset’s tenor had a rather ‘Garbarek-like’ quality, due more, I suspect to the presence of their shared heritage of Norwegian music than to the specific influence of Jan Garbarek. Almost throughout, the music of Neset and Herkedal had an intense rhythmic drive which would have been striking in soloists supported by a top-class rhythm section. On both his saxophones, Neset exploited the full range of the instrument, his tenor saxophone work incorporating, at different moments, both a full, rich tone and a breathy sibilance.
The tuba of Daniel Herskedal (born 1982) sometimes growled and grumbled like an unhappy animal, sometimes provided a firm but subtle rhythmic pulse for Neset’s solo work, sometimes spun melodic lines of its own with great fluency. His fluency, indeed, is of a kind which has rarely been heard in previous jazz. The tuba has long had a place in the history of jazz; in early years it was an alternative to the string bass in more than a few New Orleans bands; later it was to find a place as a provider of colour and texture, and occasional solos; so, for example, Bill Barber appears on more than one recording by Miles Davis, Howard Johnson has worked with musicians such as Charles Mingus and Archie Shepp and led his own bands, Dave Bargeron has appeared with Gil Evans as well as with the George Gruntz Concert Jazz Band and Blood, Sweat and Tears, while Joe Daley has made contributions to recordings by, amongst others, Sam Rivers and Scott Robinson. Still, Herskedal’s work as a soloist (as well as an ensemble player) is at least on a par with anything I have heard by any of these other fine instrumentalists. As far as recordings go, he can be heard in fine form on his own CDs, such as Slow Eastbound Train (Edition) and Dagane (NORCD).
Marius Neset (born 1985) shot to prominence with his 2011 CD Golden Xplosion (Edition), although he had been recording since his teenage years. Fine as both Neset and Herskedal are as individual musicians, in their work together they scale new heights, in making music equally full of passion and subtle timbral variety, power and agility; like much of the best jazz their work is often at its very best when built on the rhythms of dance. Everything the duo played in this concert swung powerfully!
All in all, a fine evening of jazz from two imaginative virtuosi who, given that they are still in their thirties may not even have reached their peaks just yet.