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Marc Mommaas/Nikolaj Hess: Balance

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Any kind of duet, whether jazz, classical or rock, presents its own particular set of challenges. It's paramount that the playrs involved come equipped with some kind of simpatico, or build it up quickly. Tenor player Marc Mommaas and pianist Nikolaj Hess tackle this task on Balance.

"Funny Bones Jones begins slowly, then opens up into an up-tempo tableau of melodic and harmonic exploration. Hess uses Mommaas' shriek-punctuated flights of fancy as a springboard for his own clever melodic left hand riffs and abrupt, hard bop-flavored chords. Mommaas races along with a comparatively light tone on these two sketches, ocassionally adding some strident high-register punctuation and grittiness.

"Amissirac is a slow tune; Mommaas' initially ruminative statement morphs into rapid-fire runs, culminating in his trademark stridency. Hess follows with a statement as clear and sparkling as cascading water. Then they engage in a nice bit of cat and mouse improv. "Sorcerer's Dance is played at medium-slow tempo, with Hess at first brooding, then expansive. "Heart of Winter features more clever interplay as the sax and piano voices dance around each other in search of a common improvisational ground.

Mommaas falters somewhat at the beginning of "Aftermath, but he finds his way back home to make the song as atmospheric as a rain-soaked night. Hess' swift harmonic runs and lightning-quick thoughts are wondrous, and Mommaas can alter his tone like a chameleon. This duo has wonderful snapshot moments when their thoughts mesh and they're on the same page, combining their creative energies to spiral out and further explore the improvisational landscapes.

"Remind Me begins as the most structured tune on the disc. Mommaas and Hess improvise amply within the loose structure of the ballad, without stumbling over the imperative of staying out of each other's way. On "Dialogue, Mommaas supplies a wonderfully ominous vibrato as a bridge to Hess' brief solo. Mommaas' range lies somewhere between foghorn and banshee. The pair of brief solos he plays without Hess showcase his skill as he races along lightly, adding ocassional upper register grittinesss. It's quite a range for a saxophonist, and along with Hess' fine stylings, it helps make Balance a satisfying disc.


Track Listing: Funny Bones Jones; Amissirac; Sorcerer's Dance; Solo No. 1; Heart of Winter; Aftermath; Remind Me; Dialogue; Solo No. 2.

Personnel: Marc Mommaas: tenor saxophone; Nikolaj Hess: piano.

Title: Balance | Year Released: 2006 | Record Label: Sunnyside Records


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