Noah Preminger Quartet Opens Jazz Shares Season
Pioneer Valley Jazz Shares got off to a fast start as it began its 22-concert race to June, 2024 with a blistering performance by the Noah Preminger Quartet on September 21 at the Parlor Room in Northampton. This band of virtuosos: Max Light, guitar, Kim Cass, bass, Dan Weiss, drums and Preminger, tenor saxophone, shot out of the gate with some serious post-bop momentum on their way to a 70-minute first place finish.
The band was on a New England mini-tour, with stops in Boston (Scullers) and Old Lyme, CT (Side Door Café). It began on Thursday before 70 rapt listeners. We were treated to a set of Preminger originals that were intricate, memorable and evocative. The only pieces not penned by the leader were a composition of Light’s dedicated to his two cats, featuring an impossibly fast, yet hummable unison guitar/tenor line, and an unhurried, “Way Early Subtone”, part of Duke Ellington’s movie score for “Anatomy of a Murder”. The 1959 film was directed by Otto Preminger, who was a cousin of Noah’s grandfather, Jack. (See Preminger Plays Preminger, Newvelle Records, 2019.)
Noah’s other grandfather, Lenny, “a colorful New Jersey mobster”, according to Preminger, was also memorialized with a piece called, “You’ll Never Win”, a phrase he repeated often to his grandson. By the end of the tune, the melody’s five note core, played over and over, was imprinted in my head. Grandpa’s negative messaging seems to have had no lasting effect on the 37 year old saxophonist, who has forged quite a successful career. Preminger has already released 20 critically acclaimed albums as a leader, tours often and teaches at the Longy School of Music in Cambridge. His playing was strong, sure footed, rooted in the blues, and followed the hallowed lineage of tenor greats past. His steel-tipped sound grabbed the attention, and his compositions connected with the ear.
The bassist Kim Cass, who performed with vibraphonist Patricia Brennan at a Jazz Shares concert last February, is Preminger’s most constant collaborator. I can see why he’s a favored colleague. His one unaccompanied solo provided a textbook example of how to build a coherent musical statement. From rapid, delicate pizzicato patter, and bowed whale-like moans, to a seductive bass line that cued the band’s entrance, Cass laid it down. I was impressed that he got to the Valley early to play 18-holes of disc golf at the Northampton State Hospital course. He’s devoted to the sport and plays everywhere he travels.
This was my first encounter with Max Light, who met Cass and Preminger at the New England Conservatory in the early 2000’s. This was a nice introduction. The guitarist was full of fleet, crowd pleasing runs, played at moderate volume. (The sound mix in the room was beautiful all night.) He also added nuance to the music, using a variety of techniques to set moods of different colors. While in Boston, Light, Cass and Preminger furthered their studies with weekly gigs led by trumpeter Jason Palmer at Wally’s, the legendary Mass Ave. club. Preminger and pianist Kevin Harris are carrying on the tradition; they’ve led the house band at Wally’s on Friday and Saturday for years.
Dan Weiss is one of the elite drummers, and he showed out at the Parlor Room on Thursday. Throughout the evening, he would drop the time for a moment or two, before locking back in to propel the band to new heights. He constantly used provocative accents to fill spaces between the phrases of others, while his unaccompanied solo began with the simplest of elements, adding complexity and volume as he went. It was hard to pry my attention from him. His next appearance at Jazz Shares will be in the spring with his trio, featuring Miguel Zenón and Matt Mitchell.
After three months of administrative work to make season 12 of Pioneer Valley Jazz Shares a reality, what a blessing to bring people together again to share jazz music in real time. An appreciative audience and appreciative musicians, along with the music itself, are the real payoffs.
"It's truly amazing what you've built." Preminger wrote me after the gig. “Haven't seen this sort of commitment to creative music from such a large, consistent audience anywhere!”
The shareholders, business sponsors and board of directors of Jazz Shares should be proud of what we’ve built.