Noah Preminger & Meditations on Freedom Coming to Scullers
At 30, saxophonist Noah Preminger is one of the most artistically ambitious jazz artists of his generation. Subsequent to the Inauguration Day release of his protest album, Meditations on Freedom, he embarks on a Spring tour that stops at Scullers Jazz Club, Doubletree Suites, 400 Soldiers Field Rd., Boston on Thursday, May 18 at 8 p.m. Tickets $25 (dinner and show $75). The performance is one of nine dates on a North American tour that also stops in New York City; Buckhannon, WV; Old Lyme and Hartford, CT; Granville, Akron and Cleveland, OH; and Toronto, Canada. For information call 866-777-8932 or visit www.scullersjazz.com.
As a musical protest at ominous political developments in America, Preminger’s sixth album – Meditations on Freedom – was released on Inauguration Day: January 20, 2017 (Dry Bridge Records). It’s the third album featuring the tenor player’s current quartet, with Jason Palmer (trumpet), Kim Cass (double-bass) and Ian Froman (drums). Following two albums inspired by Delta blues, this new recording finds Preminger and company reimagining – in intense, emotive instrumental versions – classic politically charged songs by Bob Dylan (“Only a Pawn in Their Game”), Bruce Hornsby (“The Way It Is”), Sam Cooke (“A Change Is Gonna Come”) and George Harrison (“Give Me Love, Give Me Peace on Earth”). The saxophonist’s deeply felt original compositions are titled “The 99 Percent,” “Women’s March,” “Mother Earth,” “Broken Treaties” and “We Have a Dream,” reflecting pressure points in contemporary society. Meditations on Freedom was recorded – live on the studio floor with no edits – by engineer Jimmy Katz, as with the two previous albums, Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground and Pivot: Live at the 55 Bar. Not available on any streaming sites, Preminger’s most recent recordings are exclusively offered for purchase, whether as digital download or on CD, at noahpreminger.com.
Praising his “creativity and passion,” DownBeat called the 30-year-old Preminger “an old soul,” while the UK’s Jazzwise magazine declared that the saxophonist “oozes integrity, authority and gravitas.” In other words, Preminger has something to say and the means to say it. About Meditations on Freedom, he explains: “I hope the titles of the original tunes – and the encoded messages in the covers – can serve as a conversation starter for listeners and ultimately raise awareness of some subjects I care about, whether it’s women’s rights or climate change or the well-being of Native Americans. I realize that the key thing I can hope to do with music – particularly instrumental jazz, with no words – is to heighten emotions. That said, some of the most beautiful, meaningful creations in the history of jazz have been poetic statements of protest, like John Coltrane’s ‘Alabama’ or Sonny Rollins’ ‘Freedom Suite’ and so many more great examples. I would never put myself in that category, but I’m not alone among jazz musicians today who wonder why it is that we do this. Ultimately it’s important to care about something larger than yourself and that’s what I am trying to convey with this music.”
“Artists should always try to really matter, and that includes jazz musicians – we should strive to be relevant to the wider conversations of our time,” Preminger continues. “I started writing the music for this album on Election Day and came into the session a few weeks later with just sketches for the tunes. I wanted Jason, Kim and Ian to react to the music with immediacy – and with the hard feelings from the election fresh in our minds. I come at the issues of the day from a progressive place, as do the guys in the band. This group is made up of open-hearted, forward-minded people, and that’s ideal for conveying emotion in a strong way, whether the music is the deepest blues or about spiritual protest. The recording process was honest, unadulterated. And our recording engineer, Jimmy Katz, is integral to that process. He and I see eye to eye when it comes to intensity in music.”
To Katz, a renowned photographer as well as a recording engineer, the content of Meditations on Freedom matched the method of capturing it, just as with the previous studio album of blues interpretations, Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground. “Noah likes to record live with everybody right next to each other just like on the bandstand, with no booths or headphones – so there’s a lot of subtle communication among the band,” he explains. “And we’re presenting full, unedited takes, no edits or fixes. It’s indeed as honest as it can be, so that the true emotion and intensity of the music comes through to a listener as if the band were right there in front of you, like with a performance in a club.”
Preminger’s previous albums Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground and Pivot: Live at the 55 Bar earned wide acclaim for their emotional intensity and individualist engagement with the blues. Of Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground, the Boston Globe said: “Tenor saxophonist Preminger – a master with standards and ballads, as well as an adventurous composer and bandleader – continued the exploration of the blues that began with last year’s Pivot: Live at the 55 Bar, this time with a collection of early Delta bluesmen, in original, imaginative arrangements…. Preminger lets a little Ornette into his sound to join Coltrane and Rollins. One of the most emotionally satisfying discs of the year.” All About Jazz, reviewing Pivot – recorded in 2015 at the 55 Bar, a gritty Greenwich Village nightspot – extolled the saxophonist’s record-making virtues at length: “In an age when accomplished young jazz musicians are prone to making recordings that are simply too cautious, too precious, obviously ‘dressed to impress,’ or too complicated to digest in one sitting, Pivot: Live at The 55 Bar is a welcome blast of gritty, fearless, sweaty, and intelligent hard-core jazz.” Meditations on Freedom is cut from much the same musical cloth, albeit with the aforementioned political thoughts to the fore.
About the members of his quartet, Preminger says: “Jason has amazing technique, along with a beautiful tone and a rare sense of harmony and rhythmic freedom. He’s the complete improviser – a badass dude, as well as a sweetheart of a guy. Kim Cass and I went to the New England Conservatory together. He has this warm, crisp sound. He’s a great texturalist, but you can also hear each note he plays – uncommon among bass players. And Ian Froman has this incredible energy, driving everything. This quartet is devoted to a certain ideal of playing – swinging hard but with harmonic freedom, plus a blues phrasing in our minds. As I said, this band is all about conveying spirit and emotion with immediacy and intensity. The long jazz tradition is inside us even as we’re working very much in the present, with the issues of today on our minds in every sense.”
Noah Preminger has performed on stages from Boston and New York to Europe and Australia, playing with a wide range of jazz greats including Dave Liebman, Dave Holland, Fred Hersch, Dave Douglas, Victor Lewis, John and Bucky Pizzarelli, Billy Drummond, George Cables, Roscoe Mitchell, Dr. Eddie Henderson, Cecil McBee, John McNeil and Frank Kimbrough. As The Boston Globe says: “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.” The Boston Phoenix declared: “Preminger’s sound is beholden to no one. That makes him continually unpredictable and continually satisfying.”
A native of Canton, Connecticut, Preminger has released six critically acclaimed albums. His 2008 debut Dry Bridge Road 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. In 2011 Palmetto Records released Preminger’s next album Before the Rain, 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.” Preminger’s third album, Haymaker(Palmetto, 2013), features the saxophonist in mostly original material (plus a Dave Matthews cover and a tune from Annie for good measure). 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 shaded… warmly expressive” tone and his “fluency, prudence and control.” The Boston Globe called Preminger’s music “impressive, challenging and beautiful.”
In autumn 2016, Preminger followed his fiery, blues-fueled quartet discs Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground and Pivot: Live at the 55 Bar by showing his more intimate, romantic side again with a collection of ballads, Some Other Time, released exclusively as a vinyl LP by Newvelle Records. He recorded this with a dream band featuring Monder, bassist John Patitucci and drummer Billy Hart. All About Jazz, reviewing Some Other Time, said: “With this all-star band in tow, Preminger does what he does best: He tells a compelling story without frills – and he does it better than he has ever done before.”