Readers and theatre-goers probably found Anton Chekhov
disquieting when they first encountered his work at the turn of the twentieth century. Here was a guy who used nineteenth-century materialsthe bourgeois drawing room, issues of social class, well-behaved proseto depict what would become emblematic twentieth-century themes: psychology, anomie, the little heart breaks of daily life.
Wunderkind Noah Preminger's will provide a similar kind of temporal displacement for listeners. Just as with Chekhov, there is a tension between the musical materialsa delightful group sound that would not be out of place in recordings from decades pastand the austere rigor of the compositions and arrangements. Make no mistake: this is not the radically free exuberance of Cecil Taylor
. But Preminger and his top of the line sidemen studiously avoid anything that could remotely be considered pandering, facile or hackneyeda dollop of funk, say, or a tear-jerking melody. The first ingratiating moment is Ted Poor's delightful four-square rock and roll drumming on "Rhythm for Robert"and that comes in the final minutes of disc.
If this band took on, say, "Blame it on my Youth," or "Spring is Here," the musical elements they deploy in the service of this disc's rigorous playlist would probably sound uncontroversially straight ahead. It's not just the material, though; it's also their approach to it. Dave Douglas
's "Blues to Steve Lacy," on Meaning and Mystery
(Greenleaf, 2006) is winsome and boppish by comparison to Preminger's emotionally cool version here (on which, Russ Johnson delivers a magisterial and markedly un-Douglas-like solo).
Of course, there is nothing new under the sun. There is a precedent for this cool approach in the work of Lennie Tristano
. It doesn't take a genius to figure this out, either, given that Preminger includes a clue with his excellent reading of Lee Konitz
.'s "Sax of a Kind," from the Tristano songbook.
Speaking of Konitz, one of the characteristics most frequently associated with the master alto saxophonist is his tone. Preminger's tone doesn't necessarily sound like Konitz's, but his tonal control already invites comparisons with the older player. The first cut on Dry Bridge Road
, "Luke," is a dizzying catalogue of tonal effects.
The sidemenall correctly considered young stars and nevertheless many of them old enough to be Preminger's fathercohere marvelously. Preminger could forge ahead in this cool vein, or he could change course several times over in what promises to be a careerlike Chekhov'sworth watching.
A remarkably strong debut by a remarkably young front man.