A front line of saxophone and trumpet can be an alluring and powerful force. Tenor saxophonist Noah Preminger and his sparring partner, trumpeter Jason Palmer, are two young and contrasting tour de forces who swept into Scullers Jazz Club in Cambridge, MA. [www.scullersjazz.com] on May 12th alongside their sympathetic partners- bassist Kim Cass and drummer Ian Froman- and brought a fierce and flowing elemental wind of change to some tenacious Delta Blues tunes. The group explored with great energy and passion many of the arrangements that appear on their new self-released recording, Dark Was The Night. Cold Was The Ground [www.noahpreminger.com] in which Preminger and his band mine the rich veins of blues tunes from the likes of Mississippi’s Skip James and Texas’ Blind Lemon Jefferson and transform those nuggets into glowing, intricate statements.
Preminger blew breathy big strokes on his saxophone, sometimes whirling through a catenation of boisterous runs (punctuated by deep honks) or quietly radiant with a heavy and warm sensual sound.
Palmer was the perfect contrasting foil: his trumpet was clarion clear with piercing highs, cascading slurs and creative trills that surgically took apart half-notes and scales with crisp delineation and a metallic precision that pounced.
On the title track of their new recording, Preminger took a solo turn with gauzy deep plunges combined with high projections and quick squeals (layering two different tones at once using his breathe as a vehicle). Palmer strode next to him with crisp interval leaps on his trumpet, twitchy and lucid. On Skip James’ “Hard Times Killin’ Floor Blues”, they combined soulful slow melodic lines with alternations of furious bebop blasts: Preminger locomotive and brash in huge colorful runs while Palmer answered his conversation with pointillist outbursts – all jumpy and arresting.
Booker T. White’s “I Am The Heavenly Way” was another highlight with both horns taking extended solos launching a glorious “Second Line” down the street, with bold New Orleans’ flavored sax (Preminger bone-rattling in his big twisting gusts) with Palmer’s punctual trumpet plying bright-hued sparks. The ingenuity of their sax/trumpet chemistry came into perfect focus on the slinky and comic feel of “Future Blues.” This tune sashayed away on an off-kilter rhythm that curled around Preminger’s slowly twisting hooks and capacious blows and Palmer’s contrasting pizzicatos and sharp-shinned trills. The propulsion behind this snail-like (stop and start) rhythm was provided by the walking lines of Cass’ acoustic bass, always punctual and full of great tension. (Take a listen to their version of “Black Snake Moan” on Dark Was The Night and hear how Cass’ articulate bass is the tether that holds together this slow surging gem with sweet and radiant ballast).
Providing the cream on top of all of this sweet, tart and challenging musical action was the drumming of Ian Froman, a young master of the humming engine. At Scullers, Froman was dazzling on his drum kit: one moment he was hitting a flurry of cymbal and snare (on “Hard Times” this sequence signaled the dynamic shift from pensive slow to slurry fast) and in another flash, he was making hay out of his creative pauses between his slow slinky hits on “Future Blues”.
The dynamic presence of Froman is captured well on Dark Was The Night, with Froman’s drum kit prominent on the right side of the soundstage, always easy to follow in his adventurous footsteps. However, there are times on this recording when Froman’s upfront drum kit overtakes some of his companion’s sounds, particularly Cass’ recessed soft bass lines or some of Preminger’s softer sax curls. Preminger is recorded on the left side of the small stage and sometimes his sax image and sound is too recessed making it hard, on some cuts, to hear all of his creative tactile maneuvers. There is also a bit of crowding of the players and their images on this recording, (with little surrounding air between them), resulting in some loss of immediacy and natural presence of the musicians plying this incandescent, slow-brewing music.
No doubt, these four young mavericks should be heard live to fully relish all of their synergy and brandished heat, kicking up these Delta Blues tunes with their special front line of sax and trumpet groove and grit. A dream would be hearing them play one night at the legendary little juke joint, Red’s Lounge, (still operating without an entrance sign) near the railroad tracks leading out into the still of the Delta night in Clarksdale, Mississippi. Reds Lounge is a must stop for any music lover traveling on the Mississippi Delta Blues Trail [www.msbluestrail.org] and it would be a treat to hear Preminger and his crew’s delectable take on Delta Blues light up that historic listening den…
Future Recording Tip: Do keep an ear out for Preminger’s next release, an exclusive release (on 180 gram vinyl only) recorded and produced by the team at Newvelle Records [www.newvelle-records.com], a new venture established by Boston-based pianist and composer, Elan Mehler and his French partner, Jean-Christophe Morisseau. Newvelle Records offers a model for vinyl lovers whereby one joins for a yearly subscriber fee and receives six Newvelle jazz recordings each year. The Newvelle model (where Newvelle pays artists in advance for rights to their recording masters for two years and where the artists retain rights to future digital release proceeds) is already attracting intriguing artist participation. Pianist Frank Kimbrough (a favorite here from his past Quartet recording from 2014 on Palmetto Records and with his work with the Maria Schneider Orchestra) brought in a young and spirited Quintet for the first Newvelle release of this year.
This was followed by a vinyl release from Jack DeJohnette in an intriguing solo piano performance.
And this month, Newvelle Records releases the exclusive recording by Preminger joined by the heady crew of guitarist Ben Monder, bassist John Patitucci and stalwart drummer Billy Hart.
Newvelle Records is clearly on a roll, riding the vinyl resurgence with a new model that sustains both the music and the musicians. It should be a joy to hear Preminger’s tenor sax tumbling and soaring in this adventurous new outing produced in the space of East Side Sound (the recording studio in New York City where Newvelle produces its sessions with Grammy awarded engineer Marc Urselli at the helm) as only vinyl can deliver.