Live review

Noah Preminger Quintet at Smalls NYC

Piece for Noah Preminger Quintet
(Smalls, NYC. 19 February 2020. Review by Dan Bergsagel)

Noah Preminger, the much vaunted tenor player, is passing through Manhattan with his quintet en route back to New England. With his recent highly-acclaimed release Zigsaw still very much on everyone’s mind, a line up with his alto partner and bass player from the record seemed a good indication that we’d have a partial rendition of Steve Lampert’s bespoke and challenging compositional puzzle. But that would have been too predictable. It also would have been quite bold – Zigsaw is a cerebral opus packed into one 49-minute ‘track’, not necessary casual crowd friendly. Instead, we were treated to five Preminger pieces from his diverse and prolific recent back catalogue of conceptual forays.

Noah Preminger. Publicity photo by Jimmy Katz

The quintet is built around Preminger’s interplay with John O’Gallager‘s alto. They slot together, neatly intertwining before taking turns hyping each other through virtuoso extemporaneous bursts. Preminger plays low, high, clean and broken, moving and sweating each phrase; O’Gallagher is startlingly liquid, slipping over the rest of the quintet as they swing through.

And while each player is powerful alone, when they come together is when there is real magic. Whether the picked harmonies and constructed sax chords of The Late 90s, or the moodier indistinguishable interplay of saxes (very Lockheart/Wareham of Polar Bear) on Stalag 17, a song written for the ’50s film of distant relative Otto and taken from the meta-sounding vinyl-only 2019 release Preminger plays Preminger.

Much of the excitement is in the saxophones (and it sounds like much of the audience are here for John O’G in particular) but Kim Cass runs a robust walk at the back, and Leo Genovese comes into his own with a manic sweep on The Late 90s. But it’s Dan Weiss on drums who shines, harbouring a slightly wild look, but with an adventure and dynamism that makes you wonder what fun a cut-down trio of Preminger/O’Gallager/Weiss could be.

Halfway to Hartford closed out their first set (Smalls is certainly appropriately named spatially but not on programming, with five sets a night going on into the wee hours) and the song’s announcement is greeted by playful heckles from the room, a knowing warning before starting of ‘don’t go too fast…’. It’s a reminder to look around and notice that a good portion of the audience are clutching instrument cases of their own. As the Preminger quintet came down into the back of the room to arrive before their set, the line of back slaps and conversations that greeted them looked like a social club. And while the room was fogged with hubbub and chit chat over the opening songs of the set – it had all been blown away by the end, leaving intent, listening quiet.

The Noah Preminger Quintet are in an interesting situation – popular, but also particularly popular with knowledgeable crowds of their peers. They’re not just a good group, they’re a musician’s choice group. It’s a good badge to be able to wear.

Categories: Live review

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