Saturday, December 25, 2010

Beauty in Ballads

Before the Rain - Noah Preminger (Palmetto Records) - The 24-year old tenor saxophonist first came to critical attention in 2008 with the release of his debut CD, "Dry Bridge Road" (Nowt Records).  Since that time, he has traveled the world, played in clubs and concert halls in groups or settings with pianist Frank Kimbrough, drummer Rob Garcia, bassist Cecil McBee, guitarist Ben Monder and trumpeter John McNeil.

For his new CD, Preminger retains Kimbrough and bassist John Hebert from his debut and adds drummer Matt Wilson. The lineup alone should serve as a hint that the music will be special.  Kimbrough, who works with the Maria Schneider Orchestra and leads his own trio, is a listener, an involved accompanist and accomplished soloist. In early 2010, he and Preminger played a number of duo dates. Hebert plays with numerous ensembles and has issued several critically acclaimed recordings including 2009's "Byzantine Monkey" (Firehouse 12 Recordings.) As for Wilson, if you do not know about him by now, you've been out of touch with music for the past 15 or so years. 

So, with all these fine players, Preminger ups the ante by deciding to record (mostly) ballads.  Most young musicians want listeners to hear how technically adept they are, how fast they can move through the changes and how they command the spotlight.  For Preminger, this program is about melody, harmony, interplay and emotion.  The CD opens with the Rodgers & Hart classic "Where or When", a quiet reading of the tune with bare bones percussion, sweet background from Kimbrough, good counterpoint from the bass and Preminger giving his lyrical all.  "The Quickening", one of the pianist's fine compositions, is a fascinating from the opening seconds.  Influenced by Ornette Coleman's music of the late 1950s and early 60s, it rumbles forward on the careering bass lines, Wilson's dramatic drumming (it's amazing how he can be so "free" yet always on the beat) and the fascinating juxtaposition of the saxophone and piano.  Preminger takes the opening solo sans piano accompaniment - once he finishes, Kimbrough jumps in, pushing and pulling at the melody lines.

Other highlights include the achingly beautiful title track, a slowly unwinding melody with solos from Preminger and Kimbrough that, like the song itself, are contemplative and without guile.  After you absorb the melodicism, go back and listen to what Wilson does underneath the song. While Hebert holds the rhythm, the drummer accents the proceedings by using brushes on snares, light flourishes on the cymbals, nothing forced but powerful in its simplicity.  At the end of the piano solo, Wilson drops out as Preminger holds a long note before returning to the theme; those 10 -15 seconds are among the most purely musical moments I've heard in years. The quartet gets to romp a bit on Ornette Coleman's "Toy Dance" (from his 1968 Blue Note "New York Is Now" release.  Dig the opening reading of the melody with just sax and drums, then how the piece moves forward when Hebert digs into the beat, the fine tenor solo and Kimbrough's abstract yet blues-drenched spot.  There's just a touch of Stan Getz in the sound of the tenor on the pianist's atmospheric "November" as well as more fine drum work - listen to how Wilson changes his approach under each section i.e. more forceful with a martial beat under the tenor solo and somewhat "straight-ahead" beneath the piano. The most lyrical playing on the CD can be heard on "Until The Real Thing Comes Along", a 1936 ballad credited to Sammy Cahn and a slew of co-writers. The tenor solo draws on Lester Young and John Coltrane, not as obvious influences but in the way those musicians would approach a ballad with the knowledge of the song's lyrics.  The program closes with Preminger's "Jamie", an extremely slow and lovely piece, a tone poem that draws one in on the whispering tenor lines, the quiet piano chords, the intimate bass lines and the melodic - yes, melodic - percussion. 

If you enjoy music that is intelligent, melodic, poetic, thoughtful and unpretentious, this CD will more than satisfy your desires.  In fact, "Before the Rain" should please you for years to come.  For more information, go to www.noahpreminger.com.  (The CD will be released in January 2011.)

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