Noah Preminger – Pivot: Live at the 55 Bar (2015)

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It’s generally accepted that jazz is a byproduct of the blues, or at the least, greatly influenced by it. But how often have you even heard jazz that takes its cues from blues of the Mississippi Delta variety? The rising star tenor saxophonist Noah Preminger did something that probably should have been done a long time ago and covered the prewar Delta Blues great Bukka White and taught us more about the strong connection between two great American music forms in the frame of two, tour de force live performances.

Pivot: Live at the 55 Bar, which Preminger will release himself on October 6, 2015, is a manifestation to Preminger’s recent fascination with one of the central blues singers and composers from Mississippi’s Delta region. Struck by White’s honesty, passion and freedom, Preminger found things to like about his music that also makes jazz so compelling when it’s played in that way. So Preminger used White as his muse to attain a purer form of jazz. And, it’s a strategy that worked.

For Preminger’s date at New York’s 55 Bar, he assembled guys he trusts: trumpeter Jason Palmer, stand-up bassist Kim Cass and drummer Ian Froman. Trust played a very large role that night at New York’s 55 Bar for there were no rehearsals, which helped to assure the improvs were fresh and unforced. Preminger selected only two White tunes, both of which are among his best known: “Fixin’ To Die Blues” and “Partchman Farm Blues”. He and his band fashioned a head from each of these songs that don’t deviate from the originals in terms of notes played, but Preminger ‘Ornette’-tizes them, converting into harmonically free melodies followed by extended sax and trumpet turns, a shorter bass solo and eventually a return to the head to end each song right around the thirty-two minute mark.

That’s an accurate way to describe what is going on with these pair of performances but a dispassionate way to describe it, too. The magic occurs in everything else they do within these wide parameters. Preminger — as well as Froman — didn’t approach his time on the improvisation high wire playing some recycled lick and following up with some other recycled lick. Instead, Preminger spins off variations of White’s melodies, creating new, fluid ones in the process. It’s an approach called ‘chordal pivoting’, providing the basis for the album’s title. It’s also allows for so much flexibility that the contrasting personalities of Preminger and Palmer become the focus, not technique: the leader’s soulful center comes through in the spontaneity in a way reminiscent of Rollins at the Village Vanguard, while his counterpoint on trumpet weaves rhythm, space and harmony together into a lucid, ever-evolving story.

Noah Preminger’s own story is increasingly that about a tenor saxophonist of unquestioned talent with passion and an appetite for risk taking. All of those things are on display on Pivot: Live at the 55 Bar.

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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