Getting it live

Noah Preminger, Fernando Huergo, the John Coltrane Memorial Concert, and the BeanTown Jazz Festival
By JON GARELICK  |  September 23, 2008

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FRESH: Preminger floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee.

WFNX Jazz Brunch Top Five
1. ROY HARGROVE, Earfood [Emarcy]
2. PATRICIA BARBER, The Cole Porter Mix [Blue Note]
3. MCCOY TYNER, Guitarists [Half Note/McCoy Records]
4. CLAUS OGERMAN/DANILO PÉREZ, Across the Crystal Sea [Emarcy]
5. AARON PARKS, Invisible Cinema [Blue Note]
Noah Preminger — bearded, shaggy-haired, 23 years old — plays tenor saxophone like a man at least twice his age while remaining completely of the moment. At Scullers on September 9, appearing behind his new Dry Bridge Road (Nowt Records), he led a line-up that included veteran pianist Frank Kimbrough and guitar wizard Ben Monder, plus trumpeter Russ Johnson, bassist John Hebert, and drummer Jochen Rueckert. Plenty of younger players extol funk, hip-hop, or rock backbeats. Preminger is pure jazz without being a fuddy-duddy. Instead of the brawn and bray of Coltrane, he likes silky floating beboppish lines in the manner of Lee Konitz and Warne Marsh. (The band played Konitz & Marsh’s “Sax of a Kind,” and its trim unison theme fit like a glove.) There was plenty of rhythmic variety — Preminger’s “Luke” mixed call-and-response sections of 4/4 and 6/8. Kimbrough, Hebert, and Rueckert found all manner of ways to vary standard 4/4 pulse, Hebert stepping out of his walks for syncopated counterpoint to Rueckert’s swinging ride and snare, Kimbrough stepping in with odd-beat chords. Monder varied a blurry classic jazz tone with some fuzzy distorted (but still quiet) rock guitar, especially on the last — and most freewheeling — tune of the night, Joe Lovano’s “Uprising.”

Preminger’s lines are always fresh. He likes to start a solo with a long burry low note and then accelerate up through the registers, from his pearly mid range to a top-of-the-horn rasp. And he varies his phrasing — one of the things that make a ballad like “Where Seagulls Fly,” from the album, sound older than Preminger’s years. He’ll use space and tone not to mimic some older balladeer like Ben Webster or Lester Young but to find his own emotions and thoughts, inventing new riffs, new harmonies, in the midst of his melodic embellishments. He starts and stops his eighth-note runs, mixing in plenty of rests or longer tones, and he’s especially good at the blues procedure of “additive” phrasing, which gives his solos a motivic logic. Think of his rhythmic embellishment as a lyric and you get the idea:

When I . . .
When I see . . .
When I see you again. . . .

This was not mainstage jazz — but small-room jazz whose intricacy and delivery packed a punch nonetheless. Preminger’s ballad “Today Is Tuesday” was almost unbearably slow, with on-the-beat little melodies and a beautiful out-of-phase section for trumpet and tenor that led to an extended passage of call-and-response. To play music this detailed and soft-spoken these days is as radical as the most transgressive squall of old-school avant-garde.

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