THE PATRIOT LEDGER – Preminger’s new album, “Meditations on Freedom,” has already earned four-star reviews from jazz publications including Stereophile and All About Jazz. Preminger will be headlining at the Ellison Center for the Arts in Duxbury on Wednesday as part of the Duxbury Music Festival.
There’s a long history of jazz being used as protest music, with notable albums like John Coltrane’s “Alabama” and Sonny Rollins’ “Freedom Suite.” But it is also always a subjective matter, with music that generally has no words, and must deliver its message with sound alone.
Noah Preminger’s latest album takes a slightly different approach, using some familiar melodies from the past as a framework, in building his “Meditations on Freedom.” The new album, which features Preminger fronting the quartet that has appeared on his last three albums, including trumpeter Jason Palmer, has already earned four-star reviews from jazz publications including Stereophile and All About Jazz.
Preminger will be headlining at the Ellison Center for the Arts in Duxbury on Wednesday as part of the Duxbury Music Festival staged in conjunction with the South Shore Conservatory, with All That Jazz.
Preminger, 30, is a Canton, Connecticut, native who came to Boston to study at the New England Conservatory of Music. The latest CD is his sixth album overall, and the two previous works were also recorded with the quartet that is on this new record. Preminger’s two previous albums used traditional Delta blues as a starting point, and “Dark was the Night, Cold Was the Ground” and the followup “Pivot: Live at The 55 Bar,” were hailed for the way they used those old melodies as a foundation for lively inventive jazz.
On the latest album, Preminger covers songs from Bob Dylan (“Only a Pawn in Their Game”), Sam Cooke (“A Change Is Gonna Come”), George Harrison (“Give Me Love, Give Me Peace”) and Bruce Hornsby (“Just The Way It Is”). Those song structures are used as jumping-off points, to ignite evocative explorations by the saxophonist, Palmer and the rhythm section of bassist Kim Cass and drummer Ian Froman. Preminger has also penned five originals to flesh out the album’s theme even more, with titles like “Mother Earth” and “The 99 Per Cent,” but since there are no lyrics, none of those songs can be construed as didactic or heavy handed.
“This record is not exactly a protest album, but one meant to celebrate all of the freedoms we may be in danger of losing,” Preminger explained from his Newton digs. “I wrote a song about women’s rights, another about income inequality, one about the environment. I’m not a politician, or even an activist. But I do care about what is going on in the world around me, and I think it’s part of an artist’s job to create conversations. That’s what all these songs are designed to do, to help start conversations between people about how to deal with these problems.”
“I’m not thinking we can change anyone’s views with this music,” said Preminger. “But I think you should always be looking for jazz to have a purpose, and one is to encourage people to care about other human beings. If we can achieve that, that’s more than I could ask for.”
The Sam Cooke cover is particularly striking, played at a slow pace so that it resembles a hymn, as the group caresses that familiar melody. But when the improvisation begins, Palmer’s trumpet has a hard edge, a gritty impetus to it, while Preminger’s tenor sax comes in as a softer, even buttery counterpoint. It’s a delectable contrast, as if that song had become a debate, or even just a conversation between people.
“I believe Jason Palmer is one of the most underrated horn players in the country,” said Preminger. “I play with Jason at Wally’s (on Mass. Avenue in the South End) every chance I get, and I only do it because I like the way he plays so much. Jason is a North Carolina native, and he’s not the type to really push his name, or become a schmoozer, but people are beginning to understand how ‘bad’ he really is, a hidden gem of the jazz world right here in Boston. But I would say we both played ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’ pretty much straight down – that tune plays itself with that gorgeous melody, and then we tried to expand on it.”