Neset was born in 1985, in Bergen, a sleepy Norwegian harbour town that’s home to the internationally renowned Nattjazz Festival. Besides his love of jazz, the saxophonist-composer also grew up listening to bands from the so-called ‘Bergen wave’ of post-rock such as Royksopp through to the great classical composer of his hometown Edvard Grieg as well as more contemporary art music.
“I love being in the mountains, and silence is a music as well. Maybe it’s because I’m from Norway I feel this,” he says. It accounts for the huge diversity and fluidity of movement between different elements of so-called genres that’s been a key characteristic of Marius Neset’s music to date.
When only 5 years old, before taking up the sax, he took lessons on drums and this has had a significant impact on his approach to composition in particular. “I think the drums gave me a rhythmic base that was very important. I learnt very young to play in these odd meters so I think I have a very natural feel for it,” he says. Neset, in live performance, also has the uncanny ability of making one saxophone sound like two or three.
In 2003 Neset moved to Copenhagen to study at the Rhythmic Music Conservatory. The great English pianist and large ensemble arranger Django Bates was professor there at the time and became Neset’s mentor. The saxophonist went on to become the star turn in Bates’ student big band StoRMchaser recording a CD Spring is Here (Shall we Dance?) in 2008. Meanwhile Neset also released his debut Suite for the Seven Mountains that year on the Danish Calibrated label. Besides a string quartet, it featured the Swedish drummer Anton Eger, who alongside Neset was also a leading member of Scandi-fusion boy band JazzKamikaze. In 2010 Django Bates took him to London to play at a concert at Kings Place marking his 50th birthday. Neset also appeared as a guest in Django Bates’ long time ensemble Human Chain at the famous Ronnie Scott’s club. Recorded by BBC Jazz on 3 he wowed the audience with his contrast of lightening virtuosity and tender, ethereal lyricism. One of those blown away was Dave Stapleton head of the fast emerging UK independent jazz label Edition Records.
Edition signed Neset to the label in 2011. GoldenXplosion, featuring a quartet that included Django on keys and the Scandi-Brit trio Phronesis’ rhythm section of Jasper Hoiby and Eger, was released to glowing press reviews with The Guardian writer John Fordham accurately predicting Neset would be, “on his way to being one of the biggest new draws on the circuit”. By the time of his second CD on Edition Birds in 2012, Neset had started developing his penchant for larger ensemble music and a widescreen palette of instrumental sound.
Still only 29 years of age, Neset is successfully hitting the international stage, and being talked about as a big tenor in a lineage that extends from the post-bop Americans from Michael Brecker, Chris Potter through to fellow Norwegian Jan Garbarek. But there’s a lot more to one of Europe’s brightest young stars than that. “I’m very inspired by people like Frank Zappa, Django Bates, Pat Metheny and Wayne Shorter where the music and the playing is one,” he has said. Neset’s classy, cohesive composition and arranging skills have come into even sharper focus with a new album Lion released in 2014, his debut for the Munich-based ACT, one of Europe’s leading jazz labels, in a collaboration with the celebrated Trondheim Jazz Orchestra, whose former collaborations have boasted the likes of Chick Corea and Pat Metheny. It was originally a commission to compose for the 13-piece orchestra (in a lineup that includes tuba player Daniel Herskedal, a fellow student at RMC who together released an impressive duo album Neck of the Woods in 2012.) for a concert at the 2012 Molde Jazz Festival. “After the premiere in Molde, these compositions felt so special that we decided to record this album and play many more concerts with it,” he says.