The title of Noah Preminger’s latest is apt. Before the Rain is the sort of misty, nearly-settled calm before a slow, cool drizzle settles in and kisses the green below. It’s a record of beautiful jazz played by careful, patient musicians.
Preminger, the saxophonist and composer, is a lyrical player. He coats the music with delicate things, pulling the listener in to what is essentially a collection of ballads with amazing poise. It avoids the soft jazz tendency of fading into the background thanks to precise, lush textures and a cast of performers worth taking note of.
Pianist Frank Kimbrough, drummer Matt Wilson and bassist John Hebert sit in on Before the Rain. They work within the spaces well and show a determination in knocking down more than just mid-tempo pieces. There’s a sense of exploration worth latching on to, generating something fresh out of familiar ground.
“I put a lot of pressure on myself about what to record next after the success of my first album (Dry Bridge Road),” says Preminger. “But in the end, I had to make the album I wanted to make, not one that I imagined other people thought I should make.”
His insistence on getting things pegged down as he desires shows with every fluid motion on the album. While other jazz musicians would have flown through the paces, Preminger takes to the ballad format with boldness. He embraces it, accenting the lines with clarity and proudly embracing the tender interplay.
That interplay is damn sure by design, as the New England Conservatory grad’s compositions are rich and spacious. The expansive title track is a subtle piece marked by Wilson’s light stick work and Preminger’s soothing patterns. Kimbrough’s ivories lay underneath, offering supple underpinning.
“Toy Dance” attempts to shift tempos (or at least tempo perceptions) with its lively introduction. Preminger’s sax bounces around the piece, venturing in and out of the arrangement whimsically.
“Quickening” exemplifies the group’s interplay sharply. The track, penned by Kimbrough, opens the door for soloing and the pianist takes full advantage. Listen for Hebert’s contribution as well, as it’s a piece of joy well worth digging into over and over again.
Preminger’s Before the Rain may be a collection of ballads, but it’s not just a collection of ballads. These pieces are performed by sharp, clever musicians. The compositions don’t fade into the background only to be overshadowed by the usual miasma of clinking glasses and chatter. Instead, this is music that calmly, coolly slides to the front and demands attention.