Release: September 29, 2023
“Geyser is a piece in eight movements that takes us on an elementally exciting journey in its 65 minutes, with sounds and virtuosities of truly volcanic energy and in- tensity, and also moments of breathtaking stillness and lyricism.” That was how BBC Radio 3 presenter Tom Service prepared the radio audience for the broadcast of the premiere of “Geyser”, transmitted on live radio from the impressively cavern- ous spaces of the Royal Albert Hall. The BBC Proms, widely known as “the world’s greatest classical music festival”, had commissioned Marius Neset to compose the piece and to give its world premiere performance of the new piece for his quintet and nineteen players of the London Sinfonietta during the 2022 Proms season. To receive a commission from the Proms is a tremendous accolade in itself, and the epic scale of “Geyser” suits the unique grandeur and scale of the famous London venue.
The title, Neset says, is “a metaphor for the music’s underlying rhythmic energy, unleashed intermittently in ecstatic outbursts – like explosions of water and steam from a pressurised geothermal spring.” Tension boiling under the surface is a recurrent theme in his work, he says. And that energy is something very special. As cellist Zoe Martlew, who performed at the premiere remembers: “the shamelessly raw lyricism and emotion packed into the big themes are offset by brain-crunchingly complex rhythms layered on top of each other, and it requires 100% focus and energy throughout to keep everyone on board.” That edge-of the seat excitement is exactly what one can hear on this new album, a live recording of the concert. “Marius is a softly spoken, impossibly good looking, gentle man to meet, clearly completely obsessed by music, with a deep seriousness that suddenly lifts with a kind of boyish delight when something suddenly comes together. His own playing is truly inspirational: packed with a fierce intensity and fire which is reflected in the extraordinary group of musicians in his own band. All of us were blown away by the driving force that is crazy genius Anton Eger on drums (by his own admission he has a slightly “whack brain” when it comes to combining irrational rhythms), the refinement of Ivo Neame’s beautifully modulated pianism, and Conor Chaplin’s rock solid bass.”
“Geyser” marks an important step in Neset’s development as a composer, something well expressed by violinist Thomas Gould, the leader of the London Sinfonietta for the premiere performance of “Geyser”. He says: “With this piece Neset is cement- ing his reputation as one of the most original and important com- positional voices of his own time, in any genre. Geyser is fiendishly virtuosic for every single player on stage. But despite the enor- mous complexity of the music, Geyser is immediately comprehensible to the listener, with a familiar sense of architecture and symmetry drawn from classical music that makes both listener and performer somehow feel an understanding of the arc of the piece.” And Geoffrey Patterson, who conducted, notes that the way in which Neset writes for the Sinfonietta has always shown a deep understanding of the orchestra’s strengths, and one which has improved as the relationship has developed : “I was so happy that we never felt like a backing band, and certainly the fearsome diffi- culty of Marius’ writing justified the involvement of an ensemble renowned for its virtuosity.”
Marius Neset | tenor and soprano saxophones, percussion
Ivo Neame | piano
Jim Hart | vibraphone / marimba / percussion
Conor Chaplin | double bass
Anton Eger | drums & percussion
London Sinfonietta conducted by Geoffrey Paterson
Out of Sight
Under the Surface
There is a similar way of working on all of the tracks: taking turns, Schaerer and Kalima each contributed both an idea and a song text (three of these are in fact by Kalima’s wife Essi) before developing these versions in the studio together. Each piece therefore bears an unmistakable and very personal signature, not just musically, but also in the lyrics. “Kalle and I are also processing some deeply personal and intimate thoughts and experiences in some of the lyrics. And, of course, it’s also about things that are currently bothering us in the world, from artificial intelligence to the question implicit in the album title, as to whether evolution is stagnating.
“The track “Rapid Eye Movement” shows Kalima’s penchant for the colours of folk music; Schaerer’s psychedelic “Trigger” takes him into the falsetto (high) register at the beginning and at the end. On the title track, things get pretty wild, before the piece comes to an end in free improvisation – as is consistent with its title. The fast “Multitasking” with its humorous plays on words, a “mouth trumpet” solo and a philosophical theme is just as typical of Schaerer and the breadth of his imagination as the very quiet and lyrical – and wordless – “So Far”. On “Song Yet Untitled”, reminiscent of film music, and on the melancholic “Sphere”, Kalima again lets his guitar sing out, as only he can. As Schaerer notes with enthusiasm, there is always “more than just the sum of the parts” when these two fine musicians and creative individuals work together.
And then there is also Tim Lefebvre, whose playing, sometimes on electric bass, sometimes on double bass (with a beautiful solo intro on “Piercing Love”) has been such an inspiration for both Schaerer and Kalima. “We played with Tim for the first time at the big Jubilee concert celebrating 30 years of ACT. The chemistry was so good, we decided we would keep in touch. When I called him about ‘Evolution’, he didn’t hesitate for a second”, Schaerer remembers. “It was then really impressive how quickly he could connect emotionally with the music. It’s crazy how he grooves on a track like ‘SloMo’, and how we were able to play ourselves into a frenzy over Kalle’s guitar track.
“In “Evolution”, Schaerer, Kalim a and Lefebvre have redrawn the road map for the production of a jazz album. New avenues are constantly opening up in these complex but also catchy songs which are just made for repeated listening…and, of course, listening to the album is also a reminder that it will all sound completely different again when heard live.
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