LAMPERT: Zigsaw / Noah Preminger, t-sax; Jason Palmer, tpt; John O’Gallagher, a-sax; Rob Schwimmer, haken continuum/clavinet; Kris Davis, pno; Kim Cass, bs; Rudy Royston, dm / private release, no number
I’m familiar with the extraordinary talents of tenor saxist Noah Preminger from his earlier releases, but to be honest the name of Steve Lampert was entirely new to me. It turns out that he has had an eclectic and wide-ranging career, having played with Buddy Rich, Lionel Hampton, Gerry Mulligan, Dizzy Gillespie, Johnny Griffin, Randy Weston, Art Blakey, Mel Tormé, Roy Haynes, Thad Jones and others. He also studied at the Mannes College of Music. By the late 1970s, according to the bio on his website, he began to develop “a more personal compositional conception of music within which to frame improvisational work.” This piece was written for Preminger at his request.
I was a little leery about it for one reason, and that was due to its inclusion of electronics, but as it turns out the electronic instruments used are more of a background and do not scream and screech in your ear. Moreover, the music is so amazingly complex that you get sucked into its vortex early on.
Zigsaw, due for release on October 4, is a continuous piece lasting a little over 48 minutes. It opens with an incredible note sequence that would be sure to give most jazz musicians fits to even think of improvising on. First, there is a bell sound (electronically produced) that plays a high F and the Ab below, then moving downward to Eb and then to A natural—and it’s that A natural that doesn’t “fit” the sequence. But it continues on to another Ab, the B below that, then the F and D below that. Daunting to say the least! You can visualize the notes like this, except that they are played as whole notes, not quarters:
When Preminger enters, it is to play rapid eighths in a seemingly crazy pattern around the synthesizer, but the pattern is not crazy; it’s just atonal, and fits in between the cracks of the notes. Meanwhile, the synth is playing those notes in a faster and different pattern than initially while the bass and drums fit in.
Yes, it’s atonal, it’s complex, but the music develops and makes sense. At 1:08 Preminger begins improvising over the rhythm and electronics, maintaining its atonal bias while still swinging. At 3:29 the tempo and intensity eases, but just for a few bars; then, after another lick played by Preminger, bassist Kim Carr enters the picture, improvising over an ambient sound from the electronics. The intense sections now come and go intermittently; at 6:27, alto saxist John O’Gallagher plays a somewhat lyrical atonal like while Carr interjects behind him, followed in turn by trumpeter Jason Palmer. All of the soloists complement the underlying electronic basso continuo.
The piece continues in this vein, pulling back on tempo and intensity and then ramping up again. Pianist Kris Davis has a solo during one of the “lulls” before Preminger returns for more intense, fast playing. Nor does he just play circular chromatics as John Coltrane did, although the figures he plays do use accidentals in his flurry of 16ths. The electronics sound like a didgeridoo behind Palmer’s second solo, which is wonderfully constructed and more tonally consonant than most of the surrounding material. At 23:07, we hear a woman’s voice, apparently spliced in.
And so it goes. My principal caveat with the piece is that it goes on far too long and, after about 23 minutes, doesn’t really grow but rather repeats and repeats ideas and memes already explored in considerable depth. If the piece were only half as long, it would have been twice as effective. That is always the danger with exploratory works like this, made from complex but repeating building blocks. You run out of ideas, particularly when the harmonic base is relatively static, no matter how complex the top line is. At 29:28, for instance, we once again hear the opening lick played by Preminger, as if once wasn’t enough.
But Zigsaw is certainly a piece worth hearing once. It has a certain fascination despite its repetitive nature.
—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley
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