Noah Preminger – Haymaker (2013)

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The sharp, agreeable Haymaker will be Noah Preminger’s first album since the last one Before The Rain (2011) catapulted the tenor saxophone master to the front ranks of today’s current crop of young lions. On that last project, Preminger assembled a band full of heavy hitters around himself and made a widely lauded record, one that we ourselves proclaimed contained “understated mastery” and “a deeply cultivated approach.”

This time around, he recorded with his working band, and the quality of the performers takes no perceptible drop: Ben Monder, guitar; Matt Pavolka, bass; and Colin Stranahan, drums. What’s more, these recordings benefit from a rapport developed from playing together for a while that can’t come from a combination put together expressly for a studio date. That’s why “15,000” is a combination of not four players but two distinct zones, with Stranahan grooving with Pavolka and Monder locked into Preminger. Preminger also pulls back some from the Ornette kind of abstract jazz into more subtly sophisticated modern jazz. “Rhonda’s Suite,” for example, is very exploratory — it even includes Stranahan’s wild swing while the other three are performing the song as a ballad — but it’s also very tuneful and congenial.

And Preminger, with a vast, sweet and penetrating tone, has become so adept at exploiting the romanticism found in some of the best mainstream jazz; his sincerely affecting expression on a old standard such as “Tomorrow,” for instance, and the exposed manner he plays his notes his sax, even when he’s running through them as dexterously as is found on “Morgantown.” And when he opens up his soul through the bell of the horn on the soul ballad “My Blues For You” he can even make wrong notes sound just right.

In Monder, he’s found an ideal front line partner, a vastly mature guitarist who’s more interested in making the right sounds over the most technically proficient ones. That’s readily evident on “My Blues For You,” and he adapts a pillowy intonation for the lithe and mysterious “Animal Planet” and a fuzzy rock tone on Dave Matthews’ number “Don’t Drink The Water.” Stranahan, however, is perhaps the MVP of the band: his mastery over the lost art of the snare drum enables him to put real drive behind these songs in a way that maintains the buoyancy of these songs, not overtake them.

What sounds like a more cautious approach on the first listen of Haymaker reveals more fine distinctions with each additional listen, and with songs and arrangements obviously built with his band members in mind, this is Preminger’s most solid group effort yet.

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Haymaker is slated for release May 14, by Palmetto Records. Visit Noah Preminger’s website for more info. feature photo: Sam Robles Photography

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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