Beyond cultivating his engaging tenor sound - a tone that's intimate and dark-hued with a streak of silver - Preminger pursues several adventurous, competitive avocations, including training as a boxer. The title of Haymaker comes from that sport, as he explains: "According to Webster, a `haymaker' is a wild knockout punch - something direct, with some force to it. That idea seemed in line with this album, because I didn't want to hold back. I aimed for the music to be attractive and have a sense of a romance, but with a drive that's undeniable - and I wanted the band to let loose, which they did."
About his road-honed quartet with Monder, Pavolka and Stranahan, Preminger says: "There is something special about having a band that stays together long enough to develop a second nature - that's what I admire about a group like Keith Jarrett's Standards Trio with Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette, the continuity and communion they have. But what I really love about my guys is their individuality, their sonic personalities. Monder has a palette of colors that suits my music like no other guitarist, and he has his own true voice, whether he's swinging his ass off or creating these amazing colors and atmospheres. Matt Pavolka has this big, beautiful sound - sound is almost always the thing that draws me to a player - and he knows my music so well. And Colin is just an incredibly intuitive musician. I don't have to say one word to him - he just gets it. I wrote all this new music with the talents of these players in mind."
Preminger named the album opener, "Morgantown," for the town in West Virginia and "the sense of purpose" he felt on a working visit to the place, "a get-it-done vibe." Stranahan's hip drum patterns - including a hypnotic solo - drive the track, like on much of Haymaker. "My Blues for You" is a smoky, after-hours number that Preminger "wrote so long ago that I can't remember who I wrote it for, though I'm sure it was a girl. But the oddly phrased rock-blues feel of it, with a bit of a churchy thing going on, seemed ideal for this band and record." His title track, "Haymaker," features elliptical, exploratory improvisations by the leader, along with the group sound - a mix of the rhythmically driving and texturally atmospheric - that Preminger aptly describes as "powerhouse."
Monder's composition "Animal Planet" originally appeared on an album the ever-distinctive guitarist made with singer Theo Bleckmann. Preminger was drawn to the "strong and beautiful" melody, and the performance includes a characteristically alluring solo by Monder. Preminger was inspired to record "Tomorrow" from teaching the Annie hit on piano to a 5-year-old bright spark of a girl. He explains: "She just loves the tune and teaching it to her made me realize that it could be cool - an uncommon Broadway song that not too many instrumentalists do, with a pretty melody. I always thought it was great the way Sonny Rollins would transform these overplayed, even hokey tunes and turn them into something hip. Ben's voicings helped us achieve something different with the song."
The title of Preminger's gripping original "15,000," one of the album's highlights, references another of his high-octane pursuits: skydiving. He says: "It's almost programmatic the way the piece illustrates my first experience skydiving, in New Zealand - from the floating to the sheer exhilaration." The track "Stir My Soul" stemmed from a challenge Preminger set himself to write an uplifting tune - "the sort of thing you play at a gig to make people feel good," he says. "There's nothing wrong with that, but it's not as easy to pull off as it might seem." He dedicated the lyrical "Rhonda's Suite" to the late wife of his first saxophone teacher, "who was like a second father to me."
As "a typical Connecticut boy," Preminger grew up "listening to the Dave Matthews Band and Phish, a lot of the jam bands," he says. "Dave Matthews has written a lot of cool tunes, but I've always really liked `Don't Drink the Water.' We do it our way, playing it faster and doing our own thing in the middle of the song. There's a breakdown section where we build and build like a rock band, stoking the tension. We nailed the song in one take, like a lot of the album." Haymaker closes with Preminger's floating ballad "Motif Attractif," a brief free duo with Monder that further illustrates the sax player's musical connection with the guitarist, a longtime friend, as well as the sense of cliché-free romance that fans and critics have come to appreciate in Preminger's previous albums. "This band can do anything - we can play a pretty ballad or take a left turn or just rock out," he says. "That means making music with these guys is free and open - and that feels good."
Noah Preminger grew up in Canton, Connecticut, studied at New England Conservatory in Boston and now lives in Brooklyn, NY. His debut album, Dry Bridge Road, released just after he graduated from NEC, is a sextet session that was named Debut of the Year in the Village Voice Critics Poll, along with making top 10 Albums of the Year lists in JazzTimes, Stereophile and The Nation, among other publications. Preminger's second album as a leader, Before the Rain, an essay in atmospheric romance that blends virtues both modern and old school, was released by Palmetto in 2011. Reviewing the album, All About Jazz said: "Sensitivity and an ear for aural sophistication are the hallmarks of tenor saxophonist Noah Preminger." Along with playing in bands led by Cecil McBee and John McNeil, Preminger recorded two albums for Brooklyn Jazz Underground Records with the Rob Garcia 4.
Preminger has performed on key stages from Boston and New York to Europe and Australia, and he has played with the likes of Billy Hart, Dave Holland, Fred Hersch, Dave Douglas, Victor Lewis, John and Bucky Pizzarelli, Billy Drummond, George Cables, Roscoe Mitchell, Dr. Eddie Henderson and Dave Liebman. The Boston Globe said about Preminger: "He plays with not just chops and composure, but already a distinct voice: His approach privileges mood and reflectiveness, favoring weaving lines that can be complex but are also concise, without a trace of over-playing or bravado." And Boston Phoenix declared: "Preminger's sound is beholden to no one. That makes him continually unpredictable and continually satisfying."