Noah Preminger’s “Contemptment”

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what a performancePREMINGER: Late 90s. Hygge. Kamaguchi. Hamburg. Hey J. Contemptment. RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS: Porcelain. SHARROCK: Promises Kept / Noah Preminger, t-sax; Max Light, gtr; Kim Cass, bs; Dan Weiss, dm / SteepleChase SCCD 31906

The relatively young (32 years old) tenor saxist Noah Preminger has quickly made himself known as one of the most astonishing and creative jazz artists around today. I gave rave reviews to his earlier CDs, Genuinity and the Chopin Project, and now here is his latest offering. Regarding the title, Preminger himself explained to me, via an email, that it was an unfortunate typographical error: ” I wanted the record to be called Contentment, speaking to the idea that I am feeling more and more content with the path I’m on as a musician and as a person. There was a typo somewhere along the way and it ended up being printed with an M, rather than an N. Ha!!! Didn’t realize it until it got too far down in the process and then just went with it. Pretty ridiculous, but that’s the story.”

Yet his music remains as creative as ever, with Late 90s opening with a superb bass solo by Kim Crass, later joined by the drums before Preminger enters. One thing I really admire about him is his ability to create real melodic lines. Too many jazz “composers” nowadays just write what I perceive as a series of motifs which they string together and call a tune, but Preminger really puts thought into his compositions. And when he takes off on his solo, he’s primed and ready. Much of his playing uses alternate chords and chord positions; some of it stretches the limits to “outside” jazz; yet what sets Preminger apart from so many of his peers is his unrelenting originality and a rare ability to communicate. He is never just trying to dazzle the listener with his technique, though he has plenty of it to spare. He’s always trying to communicate with his listeners, and for me, at least, he succeeds. I would place him right up there along with Catherine Sikora as being my two favorite modern jazz saxists and, coincidentally, both have exceedingly warm tones that project their inner selves when they play.

I was also delighted to hear Max Light’s solo. Light is a jazz guitarist who isn’t trying to rival Eric Clapton for awesone-rad-rocker-of-the-week status. Like Preminger and Cass, he is a dedicated jazz musician and knows his stuff.

One could also say the same for drummer Dan Weiss, who opens Hygge with a very fine solo. Here, Preminger creates what I would call a classic bop line for his melody, played in synch with Light on guitar, though the bridge suddenly relaxes the tempo and uses a different melodic line, and after the initial statement is over the tempo relaxes further still as Preminger and his quartet fall into a relaxed medium-slow groove, which they hang onto and develop almost as a unit though the saxist is the primary soloist. And there is yet another reason why I admire Preminger: his bands are units, not just a presentation of “standard playing procedure” where the rhythm section simply supports the lead voice. Following Preminger’s solo, in fact, there’s an absolutely stunning one by Crass with Light filling in chords for a while before dropping out and leaving the show to Crass and Weiss. When Preminger returns, his solo is a further development on what has gone on previously. He is a musician who really pays attention to what the others are playing. The tempo picks up again near the end and the bop feel returns, and this time it’s Light’s turn to shine. What a wonderful track!

Kamaguchi opens with a slow, a cappella guitar solo before Preminger enters to play the stately melody line, which moves slowly but inevitably into the improve section. The beat becomes even more amorphous as we move into Light’s solo, using a bit of feedback but doing so in a jazz context. Hamburg, on the other hand, has a strange melody that alternates between a bit of lyricism and late bop, set over a continually shifting meter. The entire band handles this with aplomb, and when they finally get settled it is in the fast bop tempo. with good solos all round, especially Preminger who breaks up the rhythm in several unique and inventive ways.

Porcelain opens with Weiss playing soft brushes on his drums. The very slow melody, stated by the saxist, is more like a stately prayer than a ballad. Yet another example why I consider Preminger to be at or near the very top of his profession in terms of creativity. By contrast, Hey J is a bit of a jump tune with a few odd harmonies within the changes and, again, Preminger has created a catchy melody, although in this case it morphs a bit too much and is extended a bit too long to be easily memorable. All of the soloists, but particularly the leader, really stretch themselves out on this one, with the tempo increasing dramatically during Light’s turn at bat.

The title tune has a quixotic melodic line, relaxed and almost balladic, set over a somewhat churning double-time rhythmic base. Preminger’s solo is similarly quixotic, but we (again) suddenly burst out into an extroverted and happy-sounding tempo behind Light. When Preminger re-enters, it is in a similar tempo but much more excitable in tone.

The final track opens with Preminger alone, playing another dirge-like melody but enlivening it with double-time runs—not, again, to show off but to help develop the theme—before the rhythm section enters, converting it into a sort of 6/8 before moving almost imperceptibly into a straight 4, whereupon the quartet swings with occasional relaxations of tempo here and there in the middle section. Preminger dominates this piece with his marvelously inventive solos while the bass and drums roil behind him, rising to screaming climaxes here and there. Then, suddenly, the tempo relaxes considerably as Cass plays an excellent bass solo. The track, and the album, close out with some impassioned playing from the entire band.

This is clearly one of the best jazz albums of this or any other year. Bravos all around!

—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley

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Read my book, From Baroque to Bop and Beyond: An extended and detailed guide to the intersection of classical music and jazz

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