|Noah Preminger's Meditations on Freedom Dry Bridge Records 005|
From the opening plaintive notes of the first track of his new album Meditations on Freedom- Bob Dylan’s “Only a Pawn in Their Game”- tenor saxophonist Noah Preminger sets the stage for an entire album of social commentary. At the same time, Preminger is reminding us-do not despair, we have been here before. Dedicated to the spirit of vigilance, peaceful dissention and hope, Preminger found his disappointment in the direction of his country’s politics as an igniting force in his own creative spirit. He recorded this suite of songs on December 17th, just forty-three days after the election, in a rush to declare his musical thoughts on the concept of freedom and what it has meant and continues to mean to an artist.
The songs are carefully chosen for their thematic consistency, with “Only a Pawn in Their Game” containing the darkest indictment of societal dysfunction. Dylan’s controversial conspiratorial call out of the systematic brainwashing of poor whites toward Blacks, resulting in the murder of Medgar Evers. The two horns of Preminger on tenor and Jason Palmer on trumpet cry out, almost in a somber dirge to the fallen Civil rights leader. When bassist Kim Cass and drummer Ian Froman enter the song, it is to lend a loosely swaying backdrop over which Preminger and then Palmer explore their own personal sentiments that the music inspires.
Bruce Hornsby’s “Just the Way It Is,” explored and condemned the moral courage of those who decided that racial injustice was something that “Just is the way it is,” and accepted the idea that “some things will never change.” Preminger and Palmer join in a unison statement of the melody before the saxophonist detours to what seems like a free exchange of ideas, stated first by Preminger and responded to in kind by drummer Froman. Then Palmer takes his with an equally liberated cross conversation, this time with bassist Cass, with Froman also contributing to the mix. The entire group reprises the melody at the coda.
The Sam Cooke classic “A Change is Gonna Come” maybe the most moving song on the album. The slow, deliberately soulful rendering finds Preminger’s tenor at its most inspirational, as Cass’s bass walks the line. With a beautiful tone on his tenor, Preminger moves along the changes with a deep sense of purpose. Palmer’s trumpet solo is equally as emotional with his prudent use of slurs and his succinct use of the mid register of his horn.
The remaining six tracks are all Preminger original compositions, with the exception of the hopeful George Harrison tune “Give Me Love,” which the group performs to an almost Caribbean Cha cha tempo. As the thirty-year old composer states his objective when composing instrumental music “is to heighten emotions.” With titles like “We Have a Dream.” “Mother Earth,” “Women’s March,” “The 99 Percent” and “Broken Treaties” we can see the man has very specific ideas that he wants to portray with his music. The group works together like a unified whole. On “We Have a Dream,” Cass’s nimble bass opening, Palmer’s restrained high register trumpet as juxta posed against Preminger’s rich, Rollin-esque tenor make for some beautiful ensemble music. On “Mother Earth” we again open with a Cass bass intro that leads to the front line of Palmer and Preminger playing off each other harmonically on a theme. It’s the deliberate tones that strike you here. The two horns each finding their own way within the structure of the tune. Preminger’s solo is an exploratory reach, but a calm, measured approach. Froman gets an opportunity to lay down some interesting fills over Cass’s ostinato bass line before Palmer enters exploring the possibilities of his trumpet with exquisite control and a total lack of bombast. “Women’s March” brings attention to an important, spontaneous development in modern day organized protest. Appropriately Preminger’s saxophone solos is frenetic and excitable, as I’m sure the organizers of the March were. Palmer’s trumpet solo is more organized in its approach using some repeated linearity. The message; spontaneity can lead to fruitful action, hopefully this movement will be able to build upon its first surprising success. “The 99 Percent” is a reference to the majority of the electorate, those who have not participated in the upwardly mobile prospects of the one percenters. The two horns state a mournful opening that to my ears is filled with despair and longing. As a working musician, Preminger knows all too well the vagaries of the changing economic climate as it relates to job compression, technological dislocation and the devaluation of intellectual property (like the work of artists, musicians and writers). Hopefully awareness will lead to improvement in the prospects for all.
The final track is titled “Broken Treaties.” With the Dakota Pipeline in the news, and its threat to Indian water supplies, the music is a reminder of the many failings we have allowed to happen, often under the guise of economic profit and job creation. The musicians have a dialogue that often seem like two parties speaking in two different languages, only coming together at the hopeful ending when their voices are more in harmony.
I realize that my take on this music is only one man’s opinion and perhaps the artist had something completely different in mind when he went into the studio. It really doesn’t matter. If we are inspired by the music to recognize its relevant and timely topics, then Meditations on Freedom has artully heightened our emotions and stirred our imaginations and Noah Preminger should be applauded for his earnest effort.