Tenor saxophonist Noah Preminger
is one of those guys who seemingly appeared out of nowhere, fully-formed, with total command of his instrumentincluding an admirably rich toneand lots of great ideas, both compositional and improvisational. Well, that's not totally correct. He did study for years with saxophone great Dave Liebman
, and graduated from the New England Conservatory. So he's not exactly from nowhere. But a great education isn't everything, as thousands of folks with great educations will tell you. Interestingly, if Preminger resembles any one saxophonist, it's not Dave Liebman or even his teacher's hero, John Coltrane
; it's Joe Lovano
. Like Lovano, Preminger spends a lot of time in the altissimo range of the tenor, and his sound in the higher reaches of his horn is strikingly lovely. That said, Preminger's clearly his own man when it comes to jazz.
Preminger is also an avid amateur athlete who actively pursues boxing, skydiving, and skiing. Boxing is Preminger's chief passion these days, as evidenced by the title of his new album, Haymaker
, also his third solo recording. Here, he leads a highly skilled quartet through a set of engaging original tunes, including one by guitarist Ben Monder
, a standard of sorts ("Tomorrow"), and a cover of Dave Matthews' "Don't Drink The Water." Frankly, any recording with Ben Monder on guitar has my interest. He's an engaging soloist with an interesting approach to his instrument and a real personal sound. The revelation here is drummer Colin Stranahan
: his drums are tuned high and crisp and you can hear everything he's doing. His extraordinarily busy playing never seems to get in the way of the music or the soloists. If anything, he pokes and prods them to greater heights. Bassist Matt Pavolka
digs in right behind Stranahan, constituting a formidable rhythm tandem. Haymaker
is a very accomplished and consistently inspired slice of modern mainstream jazz that gets left-of-center quite frequently, albeit in subtle, listener-friendly ways. The up-tempo pieces such as "15,000," "Morgantown," "Don't Drink the Water," and the title track have a barely bridled, almost jazz-rock-like energy reminiscent of the group Om, a Swiss quartet led by guitarist Christy Doran
who recorded some memorable albums for ECM and Japo back in the 70s. Monder's waltz, "Animal Planet" starts off with a riff that recalls Steely Dan
's "Deacon Blues," but turns around into something much darker and moodier. The slower, mellower tunes are an attractively mixed bag, encompassing a deeply-felt blues ("My Blues for You"), a couple of ballads ("Tomorrow," "Motif Attractif"), and a slow groover with a fine bass solo by Pavolka ("Stir My Soul"). In the end, the quartet's full range is put to the test most thoroughly on "Rhonda's Suite," a multi-sectioned piece that runs all over the stylistic map, but seems centered in a spacy, ECM-like ethic. As one might surmise, Preminger and his band are up to the challenge, creating music of lasting beauty and intense delicacy.