GENUINITY / PREMINGER: Halfway to Hartford. The Genuine One. Mad Town. TS and Her Spirit. Ah. My Blues for You. Nashua. Walking on Eggshells. Acknowledgement / Noah Preminger, t-sax; Jason Palmer, tp; Kim Cass, bs; Dan Weiss, dm / Criss Cross 1397
This is tenor saxist Noah Preminger’s 10th CD, and his fifth with a pianoless quartet. He composed all the songs here, interestingly enough, just by sitting down the his saxophone, woodshedding, recording his practices and then listening back, as a sort of “stream of consciousness.” He initially wrote songs at the piano, but “the record label I’d signed with had a certain vision for me as an artist, and I was pushed in directions I might not have gone in if I hadn’t been guided that way.” On this album he is recording with drummer Dan Weiss for the first time.
The album gets off to a fast start with the leader’s blistering tenor playing on Halfway to Hartford. His tone is warm and rich, much like such old-time tenor players as Coleman Hawkins, but his ideas are thoroughly modern. Trumpeter Jason Palmer jumps in to join him in a modern bebop romp, and it’s interesting to hear bassist Kim Cass follow him like a shadow, but as Preminger stated, on this disc “the basslines, the harmony, everything came from my horn.” It’s both inside and outside jazz, just exploring the music freely as his imagination leads him, and his instincts are excellent. Nothing in his solos is perfunctory, mechanical or trite. He hears what he’s doing and knows how to follow his own lead without getting either himself or the listener lost. Palmer’s solo is a bit less busy but no less controlled or well-structured, allowing drummer Weiss to play the break before continuing, and the trumpeter dominates the second half as the saxist had controlled the first.
In The Genuine One, according to the notes, Preminger borrowed the “2 beats of C, 3 beats of G” bassline used by Ernie Farrow on Yusef Lateef’s Eastern Sounds, writing his own melody above it on the horn. Here Preminger is less busy than in the first track but no less structured, riding easily over the bass and drums. Palmer takes his own route, playing a bit more lyrically and even more sparsely than the leader at first before becoming busier in ensuing choruses. Mad Town has a bit of a funk sound thanks to Weiss’ drums, yet is a slow, slightly melancholy piece depicting a frigid, snowy winter weekend in Madison, Wisconsin, where Preminger briefly considered pursuing a Ph.D. This almost has a sort of Ornette Coleman-like feel to it, though the leader and trumpeter pay closer attention to the chord structure in their solos.
T.S. and Her Spirit, written for a close friend, is played in 6/4 time with a sort of gentle humor. A.H., written for guitarist Allan Holdsworth, begins with a complex drum solo before moving into a long-lined melody. Preminger’s solo is angular and surprisingly abstract in places, including lip buzzes on the mouthpiece. By contrast, Palmer is quite busy, and the piece ends quite excitingly.
My Blues for You is described by the leader as “a gospelly blues that I wrote in freshman year of college.” It’s also a bit elegiac-sounding, reminding me of certain pieces by Mingus. Palmer is busier in his own solo, adding quite a bit of flash here and there. When Preminger returns, he too is more excitable, including some freak high notes on the tenor. Both horns end it on a lyrical note. Nashua is a medium slow piece, lyrical despite the elusive melodic line. Cass has a rare solo, too, doubling the tempo as bassists are wont to do, picking his way carefully through the harmonies.
Walking on Eggshells is an uptempo romp, very Ornette-like in design and execution. It’s a happy piece, with all concerned sounding involved and excited. The leader’s solo is, again, both structured and complex, and when Palmer enters it is to duet with the sax at first before breaking off with his own solo. In the closer, Acknowledgement, Preminger starts off with a semi-slow a cappella intro, after which he moves into ballad tempo with little double-time licks in the breaks, accompanied only by Cass’ bass. The drums and trumpet enter later, the underlying tempo increasing the pace as if encouraging Preminger to do the same. Weiss gets very busy indeed on drums, and eventually the entire quartet starts playing double time, making it a bop romp instead of a ballad. Palmer is especially fluid and fluent on this one, channeling his inner Freddie Hubbard. When the leader re-enters, he plays little staccato licks which lead into his own fairly busy solo. The drums and bass remain busy as tenor and trumpet try to slow down the pace towards the finish line.
I liked Preminger’s music so much that I felt a need to add a short interview with him. He seems a very honest and forthright young man who is completely dedicated to his art…although, from my perspective, I think jazz was pretty popular during the swing and bop eras. It lost popularity shortly after most of the big-name leaders gave up their bands, large and small, mostly due to economics. Most of the real jazz-loving fans, many of whom were armed service veterans returning from the war, got married and had to take full-time jobs to make money for their new families, so patronizing their favorite jazz musicians in clubs became an expense they could no longer afford to pursue. At least, that is how it is portrayed in most jazz histories. There was a slight resurgence in the late 1950s-early ’60s (I know because I lived through it), but by then rock music had taken over for young people, and…well, you know the rest of that sad tale.
Art Music Lounge: One of the things that struck me was your comment that your playing is “not commercial.” While I realize that you probably mean that it doesn’t have as wide an appeal as, say, Stan Getz, I didn’t think it was nearly as outré as all that. It’s certainly not as unappealing to the average listener as Archie Shepp or Pharoah Sanders. Could you expand a little bit on that?
Noah Preminger: I make music that, first and foremost, comes from the heart and, in the end, I would like people to buy it and support the arts! I am not putting out albums to only sell records. Let me just say this: the thing hardest for me to get past with commercial-sounding music is that it lacks identity. What makes a musician a true artist is their uniqueness; I want to know the person behind the sound.
AML: I would also think that, if your playing had no commercial appeal, you wouldn’t have been able to record several albums. Or is it just because someone at Criss Cross Records has faith in you? Although I admit not having heard you before, I’m not much of a barometer…with one foot in jazz and one in classical, I sometimes get so overwhelmed by the latter that I can’t always follow the former unless the artist is a veteran or someone new who’s getting a lot of press.
NP: I’ve recorded for Criss Cross, Palmetto, Newvelle, and Fresh Sound. Every one of these labels is owned by someone that is, before anything, a true music appreciator. Apparently they enjoyed my music enough to hire me to record for them. I’m so grateful to have had these opportunities to be paid to go into the studio; With fewer and fewer occasions to perform in public due a number of reasons, I feel so privileged to get to stamp my sound into label’s catalogues and the ears of the few remaining listeners.
AML: I also liked the variety of your compositions, and particularly noted your comment that you write pieces by recording your practice sessions and playing them back. To me, this indicates that you have a strong sense of structure in your own playing, which can then be converted into an entire piece. Your thoughts?
NP: Thank you. I’m always searching for new ideas to compose. I think about music all day, even if I’m traveling, riding my motorcycle, or out to dinner. Writer’s block is a real thing in music, too, so when I develop or hear about a new process to write then I’ll be first in line to try it.
AML: It also seems to me that you have a very loyal band whose members stay with you because they like your approach to music. Can you tell us a little more about some of them, and how you happened to get them into your group?
NP: The guys I play with are my friends and we have a simpatico on stage. Jason Palmer has been on my last four or so albums. He’s one of the strongest voices in the history of jazz trumpet. Kim Cass has been my bassist for just as long, a true innovator on his instrument.
AML: How is the jazz scene developing nowadays? Are there still enough jazz festivals, outside of the big ones, that you can play at in addition to your club dates?
NP: There are certainly not enough gigs. Sure, things pop up here and there, but two venues close every time one opens. Jazz has been unpopular for almost 80 or 90 years, so it’s difficult to develop a following while creating exciting, innovative, boundary-expanding music. People like rhythm and simplicity.
AML: Thanks for your time! Are there any future projects that you’d like to share with my readers?
NP: I have a brand new duo record with pianist Frank Carlberg that is releasing this month. We play songs that you would recognize by title, with our own improvised arrangements. The recording was made in Boston’s acoustically-unreal Jordan Hall, so the listening experience is particularly juicy!
In May (2018), I will be co-leading the release of a new project, Dead Composers Club, with dear friend and tremendous drummer, Rob Garcia. The first album of a planned annual-release is entitled The Chopin Project, all compositions by Frederic Chopin, arranged by Rob and I. The band features guitarist Nate Radley and bassist Kim Cass; I feel the record can challenge the listener, but at the same time is extremely accessible.
In June, I’ll be in the recording studio for Newvelle Records with my quartet, featuring pianist Jason Moran, bassist Kim Cass and drummer Marcus Gilmore. This will be my first time in the studio with Moran and Gilmore. I’ve decided to finally record music from the film scores of my relative, Otto Preminger, after contemplating the perfect scenario for the project for a decade. Half the album will be my arrangements of Otto’s film scores, while the other half will feature my own scores of his films.
—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley
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