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Noah Preminger grew up aware that he shared a last name with a distant cousin, Otto, a legendary filmmaker who died a few weeks before Noah was born in June 1986. As a teenager growing up in a small Connecticut town, Noah, who was spending about 40 hours a week studying saxophone, didn’t pay much mind to that fact. On his first day as a student at the New England Conservatory of Music in 2004, Ran Blake — a jazz pianist and instructor — was waiting for him on the front steps of Jordan Hall. An ardent Otto Preminger fan, Blake was eager to find out if Noah was related. Blake’s enthusiasm sparked in the young saxophonist an interest in his distant cousin’s movies, especially the scores. “I’d watch these films and sketch some notes about the scenes that spoke to me the most,” says Noah, who began to consider the idea of one day recording an of album Otto-related material.
That notion waxed and waned until last year when Noah pitched it to Elan Mehler, co-owner of Newvelle Records, a label that issues six top-quality jazz LPs a year exclusively to subscribers.
Thus was born Preminger Plays Preminger, wherein tenor man Noah adventurously interprets music from Otto’s movies in a quartet that includes pianist Jason Moran, drummer Marcus Gilmore and bassist Kim Cass. The album’s eight tracks feature dramatically reimagined versions of songs from Otto’s films, along with original music Noah penned for selected scenes.
The band turns Duke Ellington’s “Way Early Subtone,” from Anatomy of a Murder, into an unruly bop throwdown, and transforms the schmaltzy “Theme from River of No Return” — originally sung in a stentorian baritone by Tennessee Ernie Ford — into a warped Western tune with a loose, funky groove. “Some people hear schmaltz,” Noah says, “but after breaking it down into its basic single-note melody, I hear a really cool cowboy song.”
For the original material, Noah viewed 15 to 20 films, from which he culled specific scenes — i.e. “For Laura, 21:20-26:00” — muted the sound, then wrote slow-moving melodies, which the quartet performed sans solos.
The rhythm section provides a supple backdrop throughout — and Moran delivers some spirited solos — but it’s Noah’s tenor that is the music’s beating heart. With a big sound very much his own, his playing ranges from tough to tender, meditative to bursting at the seams.
Because Newvelle albums are only available to people who pay an annual membership fee of $425, Preminger Plays Preminger, due out February 15, will reach a limited audience. “I don’t really care,” Noah says. “It’s jazz music. It’s not going to be a platinum seller. The label pays its artists well, gives me an outlet and artistic control, and creates a beautiful product. I feel respected in every way.” —Eric Snider [embed]https://youtu.be/jCj0U9N5jVY[/embed]
Feature photo by Jimmy Katz.