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Dave Stapleton/Marius Neset, St George’s May 3

May 4, 2012

Full of St George’s love this morning. If there was an ideal venue for the first live performance of Dave Stapleton’s impressive double quartet project, the wondrous acoustic of the space on Brandon Hill surely provided it. Four string players (the Brodowski quartet) stage right, providing backdrops, some strong melodies, some unison statements, and occasional energetic interwoven through-written interludes of their own. Four jazz players (and what players…) stage left. Not an easy ensemble to balance, but they did it themselves, with no amplification – Colston Hall please take note – save for a small bass amp. The remarkably sensitive drumming of Olavi Louhivouri helped, but the whole sound just seemed to fit together beautifully, every detail of the music coming across with just the right emphasis.

And what music, too. The quality of the writing here was only outstripped by the quality of the playing. The leader referred to the two hours of music we enjoyed as a series of “pieces”, but as on the new CD Flight, it seemed more than that. Even re-ordered, and with one additional item rearranged from his earlier Catching Sunlight project, it sounds satisfyingly all of a piece, in spite of a notable range of moods, colours and emotions. I fancy if a single composer presented this much new music all in one go in other contexts it would create more fuss. Jazz, being partly improvised, can go along with less attention to that kind of achievement. But this was clearly a remarkable collection of jumping off points for un-notated contributions – from Marius Neset, on saxes, of course, from bassist Dave Kane, with one limpid and lovely solo, and from the leader’s rich and varied piano.

As you’d expect, the whole thing opened out from the CD renderings, and this premiere performance saw the string players looking suitably impressed by their jazzier cohorts’ contributions. I’m guessing that sharing a stage with Neset is more impressive than working in the studio, and he played brilliantly all night. The strings working with both tenor and soprano saxes sounded particularly striking. There are plenty of historic examples of that turning into mush. Not here. The tenor soared against the string quartet, the soprano blended melody statements beautifully with the first violin, and the combination sounded continually fresh and inviting. “Good, isn’t he?”, said Stapleton, gesturing happily at Neset after one of his high-energy excursions – not typical of the evening which featured lots of contrasts. Oh yes, he’s good, and seems to inhabit this music as comfortably as he does his own compositions.

The rest of the audience, from interval comments and closing applause, were as impressed as I was. The whole evening built up to that feeling which can only be conjured up a few times a year, of music which reaffirms that making art is the best thing that humans do. Not bad for a first performance. There are two more – In Cardiff (today) and at King’s Place in London (tomorrow). Catch if you can.

P.S. Another instant review here

Added later: and another, even more enthusiastic, if possible, from Tony Benjamin here

3 Comments leave one →
  1. phil johnson permalink
    May 4, 2012 8:39 pm

    very touched by this jon, beautifully put…it was quite a performance and it’s great to have validation of the acoustic-show experience, as this is what really seems to work in the space…thanks, phil


  1. Round up – Ray d’Inverno at the BeBop, Marius Neset & Daniel Herskedal at St. Georges, September 14th & 17th « mike collins
  2. Coming up – Marius Neset, St George’s, May 2 | Mainly jazz in Bristol

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