We have a pretty clear case of truth in advertising here; this top-notch recording offers exactly what it says on the tin. With the first installment of their Dead Composers Club project, Noah Preminger and Rob Garcia pay affectionate respect to a well-known oeuvre while still keeping it a long way from predictable. Fittingly enough for a jazz combo, the focus here is on Frédéric Chopinan outspoken yet gentle soul who placed a key emphasis on improvisation. Though he didn't live to see the invention of the saxophone, much less the electric guitar, it's easy to imagine this eloquent homage would have earned the composer's happy approval.
It's a beautiful affair, centered around Chopin's preludes and nocturnes, that's always faithful to the spirit of the pieces without ever feeling like a straightforward recital. The arrangements (evenly split between the leaders) show a sense of playful fun in assigning melody parts among some instruments while leaving others free to stretch. Nate Radley spins soothing guitar strains to explore the light and shade alongside Preminger's subtle and expressive sax leads. Kim Cass backs them up with frenetic sprinting double-bass lines, easygoing counterpoint or anything in between, whatever a given moment might call for.
While the piano-less instrumentation makes a striking change from many interpretations out there, it's the players' classy performance and subtle chemistry that matter most. The adjacent early-set pair of "Nocturne Op9 Nº2 in Eb major" and "Prelude Op28 Nº4 in D minor" particularly sound like lightly swinging club-jazz songs more than Romantic-era piano pieces. The later tracks in the set tend to feel closer to the compositions' original forms as written, though not without a few more fresh licks, solos and even a touch of blues to stretch the form of the songbook.
When not soloing, Preminger continually demonstrates skill at imbuing simple lines with emotional heart. For his part, Garcia's spot at the drum stool naturally gives him the most free space of allprobably an inevitability with music written for solo pianoand he takes full advantage of the opportunity with a range of frisky clatters and splashes to playfully drive the others along. However technically demanding the material gets, the band almost defies that precision with a sound as loose and natural as an affable chat. Where so much classical music lends itself to classy halls or museums, The Chopin Project feels as comfortable as your own living room and fresh as if it was all written just last week.
Nocturne Op27 Nº1 in C# minor; Prelude Op28 Nº2 in A minor; Nocturne Op9 Nº2 in Eb major; Prelude Op28 Nº24 in D minor; Etude Op25 Nº7 in C3 minor; Prelude Op28 Nº8 in F# minor; Nocturne Op62 Nº2 in E major; Nocturne Op32 Nº2 in Ab major; Prelude Op28 Nº6 in B minor; Prelude Op28 Nº9 in E major.
Noah Preminger: tenor saxophone; Nate Radley: guitar; Kim Cass: bass; Rob Garcia: drums.