Of Brooklyn-based saxophonist Noah Preminger, The New York Times declares: “Mr. Preminger designs a different kind of sound for each note, an individual destiny and story.” Preminger, just 32 and the winner of Downbeat Magazine’s Rising Star Best Tenor Saxophonist, has recorded over twelve critically acclaimed albums. Multiple recordings were released in 2017-18, including Meditations On Freedom, released on Inauguration Day, 2017, as a musical protest of ominous political developments in America. In addition, a duo album recorded in NEC’s Jordan Hall with pianist, Frank Carlberg, a Quartet recording on Criss Cross Records, and a recording of the music of Otto Preminger’s films – on French, vinyl-only label, Newvelle Records. In 2018, Preminger and co-leader Rob Garcia created the Dead Composers Club and released The Chopin Project, the first of the quartet’s planned annual examinations of deceased composer’s oeuvres. In 2018, Preminger has contributed music to a major motion picture, was awarded a composition Fellowship at Banff Centre’s Leighton Artists Studio and is recording two new albums of original music.
Born in 1986, Preminger grew up in Canton, Connecticut. He released his debut album, Dry Bridge Road, just after his 21st birthday, which was named Debut of the Year in the Village Voice Critics Poll. Preminger’s second and third albums as a leader came in 2011 and 2013 while signed to the Palmetto Records label. The Boston Globe hails Preminger as “A master with standards and ballads, as well as an adventurous composer.” The saxophonist has performed on key stages from the United States to Europe and Australia, and he has played and/or recorded with the likes of Jason Moran, Dave Holland, John Patitucci, Fred Hersch, Dave Douglas, Billy Hart, Joe Lovano, Victor Lewis, John and Bucky Pizzarelli, Cecil McBee, George Cables, and Roscoe Mitchell.
Photo: © Kristin Hoebermann
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"Noah Preminger’s sound is beholden to no one. That makes him continually unpredictable and continually satisfying." — The Boston Phoenix
"Mr. Preminger designs a different kind of sound for each note, an individual destiny and story." — The New York Times
Charlie Parker said, famously: “If you don’t live it, it won’t come out of your horn.” Noah Preminger lives life, and it definitely comes out of his horn. Along with being a saxophonist, Preminger is an adventurist – being a longtime boxer, as well as an enthusiastic skydiver and skier and a devotee of games of competition, whether golf or ping-pong. The music-making of the Brooklyn- based Preminger has been called “impressive, challenging and beautiful” by the Boston Globe, while the Hartford Courant said: “Playing with the grace and expressiveness of a jazz veteran, the young man with a horn mixes cool restraint with emotional depth and old-fashioned poetry with contemporary bite.” The 29-year-old Preminger has just recorded his 4th album, Pivot: Live at The 55 Bar, while two new recordings are expected by early 2016, including an all-ballads date on the French vinyl label, Newvelle Records, and a recording inspired by Delta Mississippi Blues musicians, Dark Was The Night, Cold Was The Ground.
“Taking risks in life helps you take risks in art,” Preminger insists, putting his non- musical pursuits in context. “Going to the edge – whether it’s jumping out of a plane or trying to not get hit in the face while boxing or improvising music in front of an audience – can be exhilarating, life-affirming and inspiring. It might be oddly old school to say, but boxing is a gentleman’s pursuit, like jazz. There’s a code to it. If you live up to the code, you earn the respect of your peers. Boxing is also like improvising in that you want it to become second nature. You master the technique so that you don’t have to think about it – you have a free mind to be fully in the moment. Skiing is like that, too – stance, breathing and technique are all important to being in the moment. Even the games that I love to play, like ping-pong and golf, are about mastering something. There’s a competitive spirit to those things that I really dig – and, traditionally at least, that has been part of jazz to an extent. But for all these things I do, and especially music, it’s all about how deep you can get into it – that’s always the challenge and the attraction.”
Born in 1986, Preminger grew up in Canton, Connecticut, before going to Hall High School in West Hartford – the institution that produced players from Brad Mehldau to Joel Frahm to Richie Barshay. From the first day he picked up the saxophone, Preminger “knew I’d become a musician,” he recalls. “I would practice eight hours a day as a young teenager. I was possessed.” That school – with its ace concert jazz band directed by Haig Shahverdian – was an intimidating experience, but one that “seriously motivated you,” says the saxophonist. While still in high school, Preminger studied with saxophone luminary Dave Liebman, who became a hero for the young musician, albeit a challenging one. “There was a point when I was 15 that I slacked off, and Liebman ripped me a new one,” Preminger admits. “I was more worried about girls than music. But he set my mind right, definitely. Liebman is an inspiring improviser – and one of the most brilliant men I’ve ever met. He taught me life lessons, preparing me to deal with reality of being a musician – the politics, the economics, how to present yourself and take care of business. It stayed with me.”
Preminger’s parents were music enthusiasts with a huge record collection, so he grew up hearing everything from Lester Young and John Coltrane to the Beatles and the Band. He became an ardent fan of saxophonist Joshua Redman as a model of an older contemporary. But perhaps the most formative listening experience for the young musician – and it remains his all-time favorite record – was the classic soloist-meets-vocalist album John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman, which speaks to Preminger’s sense of the romance in sound. “It’s just as perfect a piece of art as you could ever hope for – the sheer romance of it is so deep,” he says of the record. “The way they interacted was great. I love Johnny Hartman’s voice, how subtle and expressive it is, and Coltrane’s sound – haunting, dark, no vibrato, incredibly rich, so much feeling. As I said, sound always comes first with me.”
Preminger recorded his debut album as a leader at just age 20, releasing Dry Bridge Road via Nowt Records two years later, in 2008, just after graduating from the New England Conservatory of Music. Featuring six melody-focused originals by the saxophonist plus Dave Douglas’s “Blues for Steve Lacy” and the Lee Konitz/Warne Marsh piece “Sax of a Kind,” the recording was a sextet session with top-line players from the New York scene: Ben Monder, pianist Frank Kimbrough, trumpeter Russ Johnson, bassist John Hébert, drummer Ted Poor. “I’m still really happy with that record,” Preminger says. “I had a teacher, Frank Carlberg, who inspired me to write something everyday. It paid off. There’s a balance between light and dark that I like, plus a special kind of energy. The musicians on the record are now all good friends of mine, but I didn’t know them then – it was just a dream band for me.”
The critical reception for Dry Bridge Road was remarkably warm. JazzTimes called the album “impressive,” with the band “stellar.” Jazz Review said: “Preminger seems to have arrived on the scene fully formed, with incisive musical instincts, a distinctive personal sound and an ability to write great tunes.” And The New York Times went further: “More than just a promising starting point, this is a display of integrity; here’s a musician you feel you can trust... Preminger’s album Dry Bridge Road is unusually graceful... [He] plays with care and dry precision, dividing his time among all registers, with even tone and projection in each.” Dry Bridge Road was named Debut of the Year in the Village Voice jazz critics poll, and it made top 10 Albums of the Year lists in JazzTimes, Stereophile and The Nation, among other publications.
Moving to New York City, Preminger played in bands led by Cecil McBee and John McNeil, as well as recorded numerous albums for Brooklyn Jazz Underground Records with the Rob Garcia 4. Time Out New York called Preminger “an exceptional young player... [who] has made an impact on the scene.” The Boston Globe said about the saxophonist: “He plays with not just chops and composure, but already 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.” Preminger’s second album as a leader, Before the Rain, came in 2011 from Palmetto Records and showcased his growing compositional depth, the affecting lyricism of his improvisations and his tenor’s sheer beauty of tone – engaging and intimate, dark-hued with a streak of silver. Featuring a quartet with Frank Kimbrough, John Hébert and drummer Matt Wilson, the album benefits from a devotion to adventure and exploration; there is a sense of gradually unfurling time, with room for both ruminative nuance in the solos and for an ensemble interplay that feels almost telepathic. “Before the Rain is a mood record – atmosphere is the thing,” Preminger explains. “That band was so killing – it could go anywhere you’d want to go: way left, way right, straight down the middle. Matt’s swing feel is amazing, the way he lays it down. We never actually rehearsed for the session – and it was a one-take band.”
Along with four Preminger originals – including such highlights as the elliptically cathartic “Abreaction” and diminutive ballad “K” – the album features Kimbrough’s gorgeous “November” and his Ornette Coleman-influenced “Quickening,” as well as Coleman’s “Toy Dance” and the standards “Where or When” and “Until the Real Thing Comes Along.” Again, melody is to the fore. “Melody is the soul of music, and all my music is about emotion,” Preminger says. “All of my records aim to have an emotional trajectory, trying to tell a story from beginning to end. What that story is, though, is up to the listener.”
Once again, the critical response was praise far and wide for Before the Rain, with All About Jazz saying: “Sensitivity and an ear for aural sophistication are the hallmarks of tenor saxophonist Noah Preminger... challenging and accessible.” WHUS Connecticut chimed in: “His unique phrasing and melodic statements seem to always go where you least expect it, a sign of a true creative artist.” And DownBeat added: “The creativity and passion remain extremely high.” The New York Times described the playing as: “luxe melodic improvising... In the theme of his own ‘Abreaction,’ playing slowly over Mr. Wilson’s fast and quiet free-rhythm drumming, Mr. Preminger designs a different kind of sound for each note, an individual destiny and story.” Lucid Culture concluded: “Believe the hype – he is the real deal... Before the Rain is a knockout.”
Preminger has not only performed with the cream of the current crop of New York-based musicians; he has played with the likes of Billy Hart, Dave Holland, John Patitucci, Fred Hersch, Dave Douglas, Rudy Royston, Joe Lovano, Victor Lewis, John and Bucky Pizzarelli, Billy Drummond, George Cables, Roscoe Mitchell, and Dr. Eddie Henderson. “The most important thing to me at this point is making music that I enjoy playing,” Preminger says, offering a forward-minded précis. “I want to have fun, I want the band to have fun, and I want the listeners to have fun. Life is short. I want to seize the day and share it with people.” — Bradley Bambarger