Saturday, April 30, 2016

Saxophone, Trumpet, Bass and Drums x 2

Last October, tenor saxophonist Noah Preminger surprised many listeners, critics, and reviewers when he self-released "Pivot: Live at the 55 Bar", an album that featured 2 tracks, both over 30 minutes, deeply steeped in the blues and the sound of Ornette Coleman (referencing the Master musician's music on Atlantic Records circa 1960). Preminger and his group - trumpeter Jason Palmer, bassist Kim Cass, and drummer Ian Froman - played with great exuberance and power.  They expanded their repertoire, still using Delta blues as their touchstone, and hit the road later that year.

On the weekend of December 9 and 10, the quartet hit the stage at The Side Door Jazz Club on Old Lyme, Connecticut, (Preminger's home state) and played 4 sets on inspired music.  His new CD, "Dark Was The Night, Cold Was The Ground" (self-released), is the result of that weekend, 9 tracks of impressive group play, strong solos, and fascinating arrangements. The title track opens the album ever-so-quietly, the saxophonist literally whispering the Blind Willie Johnson melody.  When Palmer enters, one can hear the gospel calls inches interactions with Preminger. The rhythm section never rushes (listen for Cass's melodic counterpoint) ad the piece captures the anguish of the composer, respects his feelings, and makes the listener feel these "blues". The group takes Canned Heat's "Future Blues" (from 1970, a relatively new song in the program) and slow it down. Preminger and Palmer trade solos, never pushing too hard, leaving room for Froman's fine solo turn.  Blues fans will recognize most of the songs; pieces such as the mournful "Spoonful Blues" (Charley Patton's song, not the Willie Dixon classic recorded by Howlin' Wolf and Cream) and Robert Johnson's "Love In Vain" have graceful melodies played with respect before moving onto solos that build intensity and display fiery interactions.  Richard M. Jones' "Trouble in Mind" (first recorded in 1926 by Bertha "Chippie" Hill with Louis Armstrong) find the musicians digging deep, the soloists "testifying" while Cass's fundamental bass lines hold down the bottom.

Most of the tracks are ballads with the exception of the playful "I am The Heavenly Way" and Skip James's "Hard Time Killin' Floor Blues."  This gospel piece, composed and originally performed by Booker T. "Bukka" White, ranges far from the melody, allowing the soloists to let loose.  Palmer is quite a facile player but never substitutes technique for feeling and exploration. Froman not only supplies great support but also can play with great subtlety and, on occasion, a lot of fire.  He responds to the soloists, often punctuating their phrases with well-timed snare drum rolls.The Skip James piece is quite different from the original. After  a faithful reading of the melody, the rhythm section lights the fuse and the soloists let fly. Palmer and Preminger trade-off phrases as if they were being chased by that "Killin' Floor."

"Dark Was The Night, Cold Was The Ground" is steeped in the blues music that started in the Mississippi Delta and then, with the Great Black Migration of 1920-1975, moved up North to the industrial cities of the Midwest and out West to the Pacific shores. That music became "jump blues" and electric blues, rhythm 'n' blues and, eventually, rock & roll.  Noah Preminger and this fine band take these expressions of sorrow, pain and faith, give them respect but also take the music into new territory.  You can feel the "roots"of this music while you hear how far it's come as it continues to grow in the mind and hands of these explorers.

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Here's the Quartet live at The Side Door digging into the Mississippi John Hurt tune:

Trumpeter and composer Adam O'Farrill, son of composer, arranger and bandleader Arturo O'Farrill and grandson of composer, arranger  and bandleader Chico O'Farrill, turns 22 years old in September of this year.  He's been playing professionally since the age of 14, composing for father's Latin Jazz Orchestra plus playing in Dad's sextet, has worked with pianist Vijay Iyer, recorded with saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa (whose 2015 CD "Bird Calls" made many Top 10 lists), and led a band with his drummer-brother Zach O'Farrill.  That band released 2 albums for the Zoho label, one in 2011 and the second in 2013.  He's got a bright sound and is quite adventurous as a composer. His list of teachers include Jim Seeley, Cecil Bridgewater, and the late Laurie Frink plus several others.  And, now he's just released his first recording as a leader.

"Stranger Days" (Sunnyside Records) features a band the trumpeter formed in 2014.  His brother Zach is the drummer (plus he wrote the liner notes), Chad Lefkowitz-Brown plays tenor saxophone and Walter Stinson is the bassist (plus composer of two of the 10 tracks).  The music might surprise some listeners in that, despite the lack of a chordal instrument (save for the occasional fill from the bassist), the program is filled with melodies, episodic compositions, and not just riffs and solos.  Each musician is part of telling the story and that does not vary at any time during the album.  The opening cut, "A & R Italian Eatery", sets the sonic and thematic tone of the album.  The melody is well-defined by the sax and trumpet while Zach provides a gentle swing and Stinson intelligent counterpoint. There's a hint of Chick Corea in the melody, both Adam and Lefkowitz-Brown play the melody plus share the solo space.  "The Stranger" follows, the longest piece (10:17) on the album.  The trumpet goes it alone over the first 2+ minutes, shaping a melodic statement that finally takes shape when the bassist enters and blossoms a minute later when the the tenor plays the harmony as the drums offers a martial beat.  All of a sudden, the piece falls into a groove which doesn't very long.  The rhythm shifts (a martial tango) and the trumpet solo begins.  It's quite enjoyable listening to how the rhythm section works beneath the solo.  Before the song ends, there's a rousing tenor sax solo plus a short but powerful bass solo.

The album offers so many musical moments, surprises and adventures. Stinson's "Why We Love" has moments that illustrate how well the ensemble works together. During the trumpet solo, it seems as if the bass and drums are going in different directions, coming together for a moment and splitting apart as the soloist charts his own course. "The Cows and Their Farmer Walt" has a rhythm that sounds like Country/Polka while "Alligator Got The Blues" is a ballad that seemingly explodes for the tenor sax solo (Stinson's work is powerfully good here) that flows over the roiling drums.  Hand drumming and a short bass melody lead the way into "The Courtroom", the melody shared by the trumpet and saxophone.  The piece does not go where one might expect, closing on an interchange of single notes before the piece stops.  There's quite a handsome melody at the onset of "Building the Metamorphosen Bridge" which dissolves into a series of interchanges between the trumpet and sax while the rhythm section toys with the beat and seems to fall apart but never really goes "free".

As someone who listens to a lot of different strains of jazz, it's a real joy to get an album that challenges your expectations and continually surprises you, especially on subsequent spins.  Take an hour to dive into "Stranger Days", do that over a period of week until the music has captured your soul. The adventure is worth every minute of each hour.  Adam O'Farrill is a young man with much to offer and an future that looks to be so bright.  In fact, so does his brother Zach as do Walter Stinson and Chad Lefkowitz-Brown. This is such good music, don't pass it by!

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Here's a tune to dive into:

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