A duo doing standards doesn't theoretically smack of originality in 2018, yet a number of present tense saxophone-piano pairings have demonstrated otherwise. Last fall, soprano maverick Sam Newsome
and pianist Jean-Michel Pilc
went down the rabbit hole with a good number of classics for Magic Circle
(Self Produced, 2017)); around the same time, saxophone icon Dave Liebman
and piano elder statesman Martial Solal
presented a half-dozen gems given over to exploration during Masters In Bordeaux
(Sunnyside, 2017); and now, rising tenor star Noah Preminger
and creative wellspring Frank Carlberg investigate ten chestnuts in inimitable fashion on this sublime set. Whispers And Cries
casts a spell from the very beginning. It's a program rich in nuance and elevated by artistic affinity, as each and every number miraculously manages to speak clearly to its root melodies, harmonies, and philosophies while emphasizing the near-imperceptible and highlighting creative streaks. Preminger and Carlberg don't simply regurgitate standards, as so many others seem to do by comparison. They actually play them.
A single listen to this album reveals its essential truth: this is music of rare, unguarded purity. From the first notes of Carlberg's slow and searching introduction to "Someone To Watch Over Me," it's clear that intimacy rules the day. When Preminger enters with the familiar melody, that spirit and overarching ideal is amplified while the music is given over to a richer reading and deeper meaning. Preminger's tenor carries the emotion of this song while Carlberg plays to cooler thoughts and daydreams. On their "Take The A Train" follow-up, this pair makes for a unified front with playful abstractions. Then they continue with one brilliant performance after anotheran "Embraceable You" that's all breathy yearning and affection, a take on Monk's "Reflections" that floats before finding its footing, a "Try A Little Tenderness" bookended by breathtaking Preminger flights, and many more. Each number works from a wide color palette and draws on the duo's vivid imagination while still honoring the lines meant to be painted within.
Preminger and Carlberg obviously carry this date, but the setting and the men behind the sound deserve some serious credit for the outcome. The acoustics in Boston's Jordan Hall bring out the best in what these two had to say; Jimmy Katz captures every breath of air, hammer grace and strike, overtone, and undercurrent with precision and clarity; and Dave Darlington delivers a mix that's just perfect. Those who engineer, mix and/or master recordings rarely get their due, but this is the type of album that reminds you how crucial their contributions really are. Even space itself seems to appear in multiple dimensions here.
Duo dates and albums released early in the calendar year are typically forgotten when the year-end polls take place, but this one really shouldn't succumb to that fate. Whispers And Cries
is a masterpiece, and its architects deserve to be remembered and honored come December.