Interview: Marius Neset – On the way to the next level!

Written by | Interviews, News

During the Bodø Jazz Open Festival on January 31, 2024, Gerd Harthus had the pleasure of conducting an interview with Norwegian saxophonist, Marius Neset. With an eclectic mix of influences and a unique approach to his music, Neset is known for his boundary-pushing compositions and unparalleled mastery of the saxophone. In this exclusive interview, Neset provides insight into his geographical and musical journey, his creative process, and his vision of today’s jazz world.

Gerd Harthus: You studied in Copenhagen, your band is partly British, and you have worked regulary with Anton Eger in the UK. Where do you feel geographically at home?

Marius Neset: Well. my home is in Oslo, where I have my family. I also lived in Copenhagen for 16 years, which has become a second home for me, but my actual childhood home is Os near Bergen. So basically, that makes three different places that I can call home.

GH: As a performing musician, I can imagine that you travel a lot. How often are you on the road?

MN: Oh, I don’t travel that much really. I a lot of my time composing, mainly for my own projects, but also for orchestras and large ensembles but depending on the project also smaller settings. Most of the projects are where I’m the soloist. This allows me to stay at home as much as possible, which is very important to me considering I have small children. But of course, when needed I do travel a fair bit, mostly within Europe.

GH: Looking at your output It seems to me that you are very productive. Take for instance your last album “Geyser,” I can imagine this must have taken a lot of time to produce.

MS: I started composing for “Geyser” in the fall of 2021 and delivered it in July ’22 and during that time, I worked almost continuously on it. The crazy thing was that at the same time I was working on this project I was also writing a flute concerto for the Norwegian Radio Orchestra with my sister on the flute and, working on my quartet’s new album “Happy.”

Fortunately, my problem is more that I have too many ideas. The challenge is just to structure them, to shape the songs so that they work. And that means I have to discard many ideas that are good in themselves. But often I can use them later as a starting point for something else. That’s my way of working; I work on different things at the same time. I can develop the ideas for a new project in just a few days, but then I need several months to finalize and structure them. The details take the most time. You compose, put it aside, and pick it up again, listen to it with new ears, see it from a new perspective.

GH: Did you officially study Composition?

MN: Well no, not in school. I have composed my whole life, basically I learned it by doing it – I’ve actually been writing music since I was five years old. Improvising is very similar to composing, except when you compose, you look at it a second and third time to improve the song, to make it even a bit more perfect. When I was older, I studied scores of music in different genres and took some lessons with various composers. Django Bates was of course very important; we played a lot together.

My compositions and arrangements very detailed, even when I’m writing for smaller groups. Yes, sometimes I am very structured, well in music anyway! But I also love the spontaneous approach, which is so important in jazz. We are all very open to new ideas when we play and that makes it fun steering the songs in new directions.

GH: Do you actually feel more like a European artist, or are you more the dyed-in-the-wool Norwegian musician, as George Russell once described as a composer that studies the national heritage to find his roots?

MN: Not specifically the latter. I have listened to and studied many different music genres from all over the world. For me, music is a universal language. But I love to be inspired by, let’s say, Balkan or Irish folk music, pop, and classical music.

GH: When I listened to your last album “Geyser,” I wondered where you were going, stylistically that is, and what the “jazz police” would think of it. It seems to me you’re not interested in all that! Am I right?

MN: Yes, your right. At that time, I was strongly influenced by contemporary classical music. But at the same time, there were also these grooves. I don’t know where they came from. These elements, my grooves, the chords, and this little “dip-dip” that I took from the new contemporary music, somehow had to be integrated into something new. I already have a system, but the real fun starts when I move away from my own system and just open up.

I listen to Beethoven, Brahms; I’m influenced by Keith Jarrett and Pat Metheny. Some pop or gospel and soul harmonies also appear. There were so many ideas at play that I had a lot of work to do to structure them, to find a musical form that makes sense and tells a story.

GH: So, does that mean you listen to a lot of different music other than just jazz when your at home?

MN: Very much so. Right now, I’m listening to Brahms’ fourth symphony. I love it; it’s fantastic. I would never be able to compose something like that. But I love having it in my head as inspiration to create something of my own. I did the same with Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, with Mozart’s Requiem, from which the “Prague Ballet” emerged. So, very often, my songs start with a sound I heard or a melody I played in a concert or even dreamt. Once you have it, it’s easy to create something new – but at some point, you have to stop, break it down again, and throw away elements.

GH: Speaking of influences, being Norwegian I would assume you listened a lot to Jan Garbarek?

MN: I’m very inspired by him, although I’ve never met him. He’s one of the most important saxophonists and an important role model not only for young Norwegian musicians. If you ask me about other role models, it’s hard for me to pick just a few. In my teenage years, which are very important, I looked up to Charlie Parker and Michael Brecker. They were my saxophone heroes. Wayne Shorter and Sonny Rollins also inspired me a lot, not to mention Joshua Redman, who worked with the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra for a while. And Ola Kvernberg, the Norwegian violinist.

GH: But let’s look at it from a different perspective: Jazz – what does it mean to you? Is it still a relevant genre for you?

MN: That’s a very interesting question. I just recorded a new album with a very good classical pianist, Leif Ove Andsnes. We’ve known each other for quite some time. After we recorded the album, we wondered whether it was jazz or classical music but couldn’t clearly decide in the end. We also didn’t find that crossover was the right term. So, I’ll just give you this boring answer to your question: I just love to consider it as music! But jazz is in my musical DNA, that magic of the spontaneity of ‘instant composing.’ Sometimes you get results you never even dreamed of! That’s what’s so special about jazz.


GH: I often think of Edvard Grieg when I listen to your orchestral music.

MN: Oh yes, he created a lot of the trendy chords that appear in modern jazz today. It’s also very interesting to listen to his Ballad in G minor or the E minor Concerto. There are so many great melodies, excellent harmonies. My mother is a classical pianist, so our house was full of music. The melodies you hear in your childhood accompany you for the rest of your life. And she really played a lot of Grieg.

GH: You’ve been working with Sigi Loch’s Act Music for some time. What about them as a label?

MN: Sigi Loch has done a lot for me, so Act has played a great role in my career. First of all, he granted me complete musical freedom, which is very important to me. No one there has ever told me what to do. And equally important: They have done a lot to sell my records.

GH: Marius, well thanks for taking the time to speak with me, I know you have a busy schedule here at the festival so I appreciate it.

MN: Your very welcome Gerd.

You can find out more about Marius Neset at his website. Details about his recordings can be found at the ACT Music website.


Last modified: April 18, 2024