Saxophonist Marc Mommaas makes far too few records, and that’s a fact. Because when he does get round to making another one, it is instantly one of the jazz highlights of the year. His latest album, The Impressionist, is his best to date.
Mommaas is a Dutch musician, but he has been living for decades in New York, at the heart of jazz. It was the pandemic that got him writing, and more specifically the idea of unlocking a musical treasure-chest, the compositions of Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924), and to write his own music using the French composer as his inspiration. It took him a total of three quiet months to write the eight pieces which we now hear on The Impressionist.
Mommaas’s mother is a classical musician – from the fourth generation of musicians in her family. His father was a well-known visual artist who adored jazz. As a musician, Marc Mommaas himself chose the freedom of jazz…and has devoted his life to it. However, with the sudden reflections brought about by the pandemic and the changing sounds which the big city was sending in his direction, it was classical music which inspired him.
While he was writing, he immediately realised not only that he really wanted to work with a specific group of musicians, but also which instruments should be present. No drums, for instance. He found his ideal band in the great guitarist Nate Radley, pianist Gary Versace and double bassist Jay Anderson. They were all musicians he had played with before, but never together in the same band.
The chemistry between the musicians, the challenges they present each other with, and the sublime way they play together mean they are able to extract an incredible amount from the compositions. The record is an absolute delight for the ear, it immediately touches the heart,right from the 10-minute-plus album opener Nostalgia, and onwards without the level of inspiration coming off the boil in any way, right through to the closing track “Moving On”.
Mommaas has written brilliant pieces. The melodic lines are timeless, and the four musicians play them in such a loose and free way, you can almost forget how good they really are. The listener is completely captivated by the musical story as it unfolds. This is absolute jazz richness.
The Impressionist showcases a composer and musician at the top of his game. What a treat to hear these compositions: the rich melodies, exquisite playing and ingenious arrangements. Mommaas has packed so much that is both touching and intriguing into eight fascinating and timeless compositions.
Alongside Radley, Versace and Anderson whose playing is truly top class, it is above all Mommaas who raises his performance to incredible heights. He plays with astonishing technical assuredness, and the kind of ever-present intensity which is rare. Truly, every note he plays reaches the listener’s emotions, not single one is wasted. Far from his homeland, Mommaas has refined and perfected his playing in his own individual way, and has become one of the defining tenor and soprano saxophonists of today’s jazz.
Marc Mommaas’ The Impressionist (alongside the fantastic Amaryllis & Belladonna double album from Mary Halvorson, and also Fergus McCreadie’s magisterial Forest Floor) is the 2022 jazz album you can buy without the slightest hesitation. So much beauty in jazz is something to be heard far too rarely. This is an album which it is impossible to get tired of.