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Marius Neset & Daniel Herskedal, London + Bristol

September 21, 2012

This sparkling duo’s mini tour has been widely and well reviewed – here, here and here. The reliable critical trio of John Fordham, Mike Collins and Tony Benjamin all liked it a lot, and with good reason.

Those three cover two different gigs, and we happened to catch them both so a few words about the comparison seem in order here. In London at the weekend, we dropped by King’s Place for a couple of sets in the Edition Records part of their festival (Josh Arcoleo was good too, as the first of those reviews notes).

Neset and Herskedal were eagerly anticipated, on the strength of their remarkable recent recording, but that only partially prepared the ears for the impact of their live playing. In London they presented one 45 minute sequence, opening with Abdullah Ibrahim’s Wedding, then playing other tunes mostly taken from that recording. The absence of the choir which appears on some tracks wasn’t really noticeable, particularly as Herskedal used pedals to set up some loops which allowed him to compile four or five tuba lines on one solo number – he is really an astonishing player, technically, as anyone can hear, but also intensely musical. The jazz-folk-dance-pastoral mix he and Neset deliver was a complete delight.

Worth hearing again? Oh yes. The gig at St George’s was a welcome late addition to their programme, and free admission plus the buzz from Neset’s two recent appearances here drew a good crowd to this Monday night treat. This one was purely acoustic, and the sound they produced in the space was simply spellbinding. They played the room as well as their instruments – Neset beginning on soprano sax in the balcony and throwing a surprising volume down from the old roof. As ever, St George’s may have been the perfect space to hear this music in all its detail, breathy punctuation, instrument keys, and minute shifts of timbre all embroidering the passionately delivered melodies, and the insistent rhythms the duo manage to conjure up from their unusual combination of instruments.

Both players are extraordinary, but it is hard not to let Neset’s saxophone take much of one’s attention. He moves with each phrase, and has unusual control over the horn, seeming to be able to vary the attack of each separate note at whatever tempo. The result is wonderfully expressive, and it was a privilege, really, to see him at work again close up. On one hand, it felt inspiriting so hear a musician so young and so accomplished – who it is clear I shall go on listening too now for as long as I live. On the other, he is surely destined to tour the world and so get harder to catch in person as his audience builds.

We’ll see. Meantime, Monday saw a more expansive performance, stretching out a little more on the individual pieces, and giving us two sets instead of one and thus space for some pieces not heard in London. Each sets was still shortish – this must be taxing stuff to play with such intensity – but they added up to a magical evening’s music. Both these shows will shine in the memory when it is time to look back at 2012’s highlights, but Monday’s had the brighter gleam.

p.s. and another nice impression from King’s Place here

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