Jazz Sensibilities

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Monday, March 6, 2017

Noah Preminger | Meditations on Freedom

By Jeff Becker

Noah Preminger
Meditations on Freedom
Self-Produced (2017)
Is open and civil discourse happening in today’s political climate, or have we reached an all-time low of leveling our fellow humans to a place of alienation, leaving many marginalized and without a voice.  Enter Noah Preminger’s Meditations on Freedom, a poignantly well-timed collection of tunes meant to be reflected upon.

Joined by trumpeter Jason Palmer, bassist Kim Cass and Ian Froman on drums this ensemble has seen the light of day on two previous releases, Pivot: Live At The 55 Bar and Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground.  A blues underpinning is a key factor in Meditations on Freedom giving it a nostalgic feeling of protest songs that string together a lineage of events. 

The opener is a Bob Dylan's civil rights classic "Only a Pawn in Their Game" and takes a respectful approach to Dylan’s purposed pen, before opening up as a group, for jazz improvisational outreach.

Bruce Horsnby is always a master at the simple yet effective tune, and his original "The Way It Is," is given a modern treatment with an edgy and commanding approach.  The civil rights movement would not be complete without ruminating on, Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come,” and this is where Preminger really shines, a gritty delta blues feel drives this tune and speaks to generations with emotive influence. Members of the Beatles were known for their more introspective latter years, and who better to portray that moment musically than George Harrison's "Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)" which was originally written as a part of his ongoing humanitarian aid project to bring awareness to the plight of Bangladesh refugees.

So, let’s examine Preminger’s originals, which are eloquently mirrored among these iconoclastic covers.  “We Have a Dream" conveys a sense of this generations message, while the nature focused "Mother Earth" covers the ever-urgent message of our planet and her needs.  The poignancy of “Women's March" reflects the struggle that women face in today’s times of turning the clock back and losing the rights that have already been fought for by their predecessors. "The 99 Percent" and "Broken Treaties" are a true reflection of where so many feel they are today; the feeling of disparity, the depression of helplessness and the anger and embitterment each day can bring, without any hope.
With eight leader releases and an additional six as a sideman, one cannot help but call Preminger inexhaustible.  But it’s not just his fertileness, he also has a focused creative approach that is virile and filled with depth.   With the release of Meditations on Freedom, this steps Preminger into a new realm of enlightened discography. One that truly sets him on a path of greatness to come. 

Track Listing: Only a Pawn in Their Game; The Way It Is; A Change Is Gonna Come; We Have a Dream; Mother Earth; Women’s March; The 99 Percent; Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth); Broken Treaties.

Personnel: Noah Preminger: saxophone; Jason Palmer: trumpet; Kim Cass: double-bass; Ian Froman: drums.

Nicole Saphos | Tiptoe

by Raul da Gama

Nicole Saphos
Independent (2016)

One of the most enduring photographs in Jazz will forever be the sight of the great trombonist Melba Liston on stage, extending her arms at full stretch playing a brazenly low note on her instrument. It’s almost as some kind of cosmic force conspired to keep most women – except for vocalists, some pianists (Hazel Scott being one) and drummers (like Viola Smith) – out of the limelight. So even though the ladies of the Cuban band Anacaona showed the way, it wasn’t really news until Esperanza Spaulding broke through the glass ceiling and won her Grammy Award for Best New Artist that women bassist/singers felt empowered to come forward. The talented Nicole Saphos is quite apart, especially among the rest of the bassists who can sing.  

Saphos is a bassist of frightening facility. Technically formidable and immensely communicative, her performances grab you by the ear and refuse to let you go, which is keenly exhibited on her breathtaking debut album Tiptoe. Remarkably for someone so young, Saphos has chosen to launch herself in the trio format. It is arguably one of the most difficult formats to work in because the bassist is putting herself under immense pressure by putting a ceiling on melodic partnerships. Her choice to replace the customary (in a trio, at any rate) piano with the guitar is even more daring. However, John Lee is more than up to the task as he comes with a glorious ability to ‘hear’ Saphos with very large musical ears and respond with wonderful melodic lines that mimic her (human) voice.  

As a creative artist Nicole Saphos is irrepressible, yet she shapes each performance with galvanizing commitment. Her sound is always penetrating and focussed. “Just One Of Those Things” and a heartwarming version of Thelonious Monk’s “Ugly Beauty” open up a view of dynamics on the forceful side and her command of line stands firm, with just enough elasticity to give phrases the lift or space they need to take an organic place in the structural picture. For a clear example of the latter aspect of her playing take a careful listen to “Broken Ballerina”; this soars with impossible leaps and melodic pirouettes not unlike the character that she is playing. The song “Lady Hip’s Great Escape,” a great tongue-in-cheek title, by the way, brings Saphos’ ability to write idiomatically into sharp focus. And then there is Nicole Saphos’ singing, which is quite another kettle of fish. 

Ordinarily the listener would expect a pitch-perfect vocalisation of the melodic line from someone just starting to express themselves vocally. Clearly, however, Nicole Saphos has worked things out long before she put down her vocals in record for pitch doesn’t seem to matter for this young star. Nor should it. We are swept away throughout Tiptoe by her sense of breathless propulsion. Abandoning classical expressions of pitch Saphos allows her sense of gilded vocal glissandi to take music into unexpected places (Just One Of Those Things is a fine example of this) and her command of vocal color also tends to peek into hidden corners of songs where she always seems to turn something mundane into a vocal line that is truly extraordinary.  

Put the remarkable ability to sing and play bass into a tiny package and you have a stick of elegant musical dynamite in the form of Nicole Saphos.

Tracks: Act 1 – Just One of Those Things; Broken Ballerina; Say It Isn’t So; Custom Memories; Lady Hip’s Great Escape. Act II – Hot Knife; Doesn’t Do; Ugly Beauty; You Don’t Know What Love Is. 

Personnel: Nicole Saphos: bass & vocals; John Lee: guitar; Ele Rubenstein: drums.