When Noah Preminger self-releases his fourth album - Pivot: Live at the 55 Bar - on October 6, 2015, it won't be jazz business as usual. The tenor saxophonist is presenting a vision of music as he hears it now, without regard to pleasing a label or management, without considering someone's by-the-numbers notions of how things are done. Pivot: Live at the 55 Bar, recorded in the heat of the moment at the Greenwich Village nightspot by Jimmy Katz, finds Preminger exploring both his obsession with age-old Delta blues and his desire for a more fluid, intense way of playing jazz. Preminger and his new kindred-spirit quartet - with Jason Palmer (trumpet), Kim Cass (double-bass) and Ian Froman (drums) - were captured performing two thrilling half-hour rhapsodies based on songs by one of the saxophonist's favorite blues singers, Bukka White (1909-77). They re-imagine his soul-deep "Parchman Farm Blues" and "Fixin' to Die Blues" by way of Ornette Coleman's Free Jazz, Sonny Rollins' wide-open Our Man in Jazz and the John Coltrane Quartet's last, envelope-pushing flights, all the while transmuting past into present for a 21st-century vision of free-minded but hard-swinging jazz.
About interpreting pre-war material by a Mississippi bluesman, however abstractly, Preminger says: "Over the past few years, virtually the only music I've listened to has been Delta blues - I've been obsessed with it. I love all the honesty and emotion in the music, the soulfulness of the phrasing. Just the sound of Bukka White's voice moves me. Those guys like him, they really meant what they were saying - and that is rare in this worldŠ My goal for this band live is to be direct and hard-hitting in that spirit. I want us to be a force the second we hit the stage, that we're planting our feet and telling our story. At the 55 Bar, we were probably too loud for the people in the room, but I wanted this intense, overloaded sound on the record. And that's the way Jimmy Katz recorded it: When you put it on at home, it feels like the band is right in the room in front of you.
"Jason Palmer is unleashed on this record - the way he plays in this band is unlike anything else I've heard him do on record," Preminger adds. "He has the most amazing technique, along with a beautiful tone and an incredible sense of harmony and rhythmic freedom. He's really the complete improviser - a badass dude, as well as a sweetheart of a guy. Kim Cass and I went to NEC together. He has this warm, crisp sound. He's a great texturalist, but you can also hear each note he plays - rare among bass players. Ian Froman has this incredible energy and intensity, driving things. The band is devoted to a certain ideal of playing - swinging with harmonic freedom over long, extended, open forms, but with that blues phrasing in our minds."
About the live sessions, album engineer Jimmy Katz says: "I hope this is a breakthrough record for Noah. He is refining his artistic vision and playing better every time you hear him. You can feel him stretching out, really reaching. The band was high energy and intense throughout the nights we recorded, using Bukka White's blues songs as jumping off points for modern improvisation. The tracks wound up being 32 minutes apiece. Noah and Jason developed intense melodic improvisations without repeating themselves. They did this with no rehearsal, so it was completely spontaneous and fresh. With the fire of Ian and Kim as a rhythm section, Jason and Noah are able to take flight. Engineering in an intimate live environment when a band plays this hard presents technical challenges, but I aimed to capture the raw energy and feeling of the music."
Regarding the "Pivot" part of the album title, Preminger explains that it comes from the concept of "chordal pivoting," which enables the band to play extended improvisations without unduly repeating themselves. "With chordal pivoting and voice leading, it makes sure that the improvisation isn't random," he says. "There's an in-built tension, as well as fluidity of movement. The rhythm is linked to 4/4, but there's no real meter, even though it's swinging. The concept of chordal pivoting enables the music to unfurl as you create melodies off the root chords, giving you the room to improvise without repeating yourself harmonically. Vintage Ornette is obviously a huge influence on the sound of the band, but what we're doing is a bit different. The impetus for our concept really came from recent discussions I had with guitarist Joe Morris. He gave me some theoretical inspiration for finding a way as an improviser to tell your story however long you need to, while swinging intensely."
Pivot: Live at the 55 Bar will be available in various formats via CD Baby and other outlets, as well as www.noahpreminger.com. Preminger already has plans to record his quartet live again when they play at Small's in New York in October, even as the new album is just released. He says: "I really want to document this band and the way we play - I want to bottle the lightning when I can."
Pivot: Live at the 55 Bar is Noah Preminger's follow-up to Haymaker (Palmetto, 2013), which featured the saxophonist with guitarist Ben Monder, double-bassist Matt Pavolka and drummer Colin Stranahan in mostly original material (plus a Dave Matthews cover and a tune from Annie for good measure). With Haymaker and his previous albums as a leader - Before the Rain (Palmetto, 2011) and Dry Bridge Road (Nowt, 2008) - Preminger collected praise far and wide. Jazz Review lauded the saxophonist's "incisive musical instincts and distinctive, personal sound." In The New York Times, Ben Ratliff said: "Mr. Preminger designs a different kind of sound for each note, an individual destiny and story," while Nate Chinen chimed in, too, lauding his "darkly shadedŠ warmly expressive" tone and his "fluency, prudence and control." The Boston Globe called Preminger's music "impressive, challenging and beautiful," as JazzTimes extolled his "individual conception," DownBeat his "creativity and passion," and Jazzwise his "integrity, authority and gravitas." All heady words for a musician still just 29 years old.
Preminger grew up in Canton, Connecticut. While still in high school, he studied with sax luminary Dave Liebman. His debut album - Dry Bridge Road, released just after he graduated from the New England Conservatory of Music - is a sextet session 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. Preminger's second album as a leader, Before the Rain, is an essay in atmospheric romance that blends virtues both modern and old school. Reviewing that 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 Fred Hersch and Cecil McBee, Preminger has recorded three albums for Brooklyn Jazz Underground Records as part of the Rob Garcia 4, the drummer-leader's quartet with pianist Dan Tepfer and various bassists. Recorded in 2010 but released in 2014, Background Music (Fresh Sound New Talent) featured Preminger as part of a cooperative trio with Garcia and bassist Masa Kamaguchi that ranged from Ornette Coleman to Keith Jarrett to Otis Redding. Earlier this year, Preminger recorded a ballads album for the vinyl-only label Newvelle Records, featuring Ben Monder, John Patitucci and Billy Hart, to be released in early 2016.
Preminger has performed on stages from North America to Europe and Australia, and he has played with the likes of Billy Hart, Dave Holland, 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 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 the Boston Phoenix declared: "Preminger's sound is beholden to no one. That makes him continually unpredictable and continually satisfying."