Simona Premazzi: Control & Empowerment

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“I like the idea of being the owner of my music and my masters and having total control over it,” Premazzi says of her DIY career.

(Photo: Chris Drukker)

Simona Premazzi speaks of her art with a calm self-assurance tempered by enthusiasm and curiosity.

She knows what she wants and how to achieve it, from her sharp, precise touch at the keyboard to her personal style to putting out her own records. But she’s still learning and constantly striving to take her music — playing, composing, conceptualization — one step further.

“I don’t like to play easy stuff,” Premazzi says with a laugh. “I really need a challenge whenever I’m performing, something that keeps the fire under my butt somehow. I like when there’s a challenge in the music.”

On her latest album, Wave In Gravity, that challenge comes from stepping into the spotlight alone for the first time. It’s her first solo album in a career that’s spanned nearly two decades of leading her own groups and guesting with players like alto saxophonist Greg Osby and trumpeter Jeremy Pelt. Her debut, 2007’s Looking For An Exit, featured bassist Joe Sanders and drummer Ari Hoenig, while 2017’s Outspoken had Joe Martin on bass and Nasheet Waits on drums, with saxophonist Dayna Stephens, vocalist Sara Serpa and Pelt (who also produced the album) guesting. She was a member of the trumpeter’s band for two years, playing on his 2015 album Tales, Musings And Other Reveries.

Recording solo has been an entirely different experience for Premazzi, though. She made Wave In Gravity in Studio A at New York’s Sear Sound in December 2021, with engineer Chris Allen. “Of course, the pandemic had an influence, because I recorded it at the end of 2021,” she says. “And I’ve been performing solo for a long time, so it’s something that I enjoy doing. I have a repertoire of solo pieces that I had prepared … so I was like, you know what, I haven’t done a solo album, I know it’s a challenging thing to do, but why not? Let’s do it.” She describes the process as “very intimate. You’re by yourself with the music and it’s a different experience from recording with other people.”

The album’s tracks cover a wide range of music — from standards like Cole Porter’s “In The Still Of The Night,” Rodgers and Hart’s “My Heart Stood Still” and Frank Loesser’s “On A Slow Boat To China” to pieces by piano masters Thelonious Monk (“Monk’s Mood”) and Andrew Hill (“Smoke Stack”). Wave In Gravity also includes five compositions by Premazzi.

“G Minor Thing/Wachet Auf” is an improvised counterpoint tune in 5/8, which metamorphoses in its final moments, becoming an interpretation of Bach’s Cantata No. 140, Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme. Hearing the instantly recognizable melody, normally sung by a choir, performed on piano and in 5/8, is a somewhat head-spinning experience, at once beautiful and surprising.

“I’ll Take A Spaceship And Try And Go And Find You” started life as a rhythmic and hand-independence exercise. (“G Minor Thing” was also an exercise at first.) Premazzi says, “All musicians tend to work on our weakest thing, you know? Not only on what we are good at doing. So, of course, when I write a new tune, I also try to include some aspect that I would love to work on.”

“Between Spheres” and “Wave In Gravity” are both freely improvised, and while their titles may remind some readers of Matthew Shipp’s work, Premazzi’s style is more romantic. In fact, the way she leaps from one end of the keyboard to the other on the title piece and the taut, jabbing way she strikes the keys, are at times reminiscent of the work of Cecil Taylor.

Taylor, whose own solo recitals were often stunning events, has been something of a touchstone for Premazzi in recent years. She performed a solo tribute to him at the Buffalo CMC Jazz Festival in 2018 — the recording is available on her Bandcamp page — and as part of her preparation for that and for the Wave In Gravity session, she listened deeply to his 1974 solo album Silent Tongues. But it may be more an example of common roots than direct influence. She explains that like Taylor, who famously attended New England Conservatory, “I have a grounding in classical studies, so my technique kind of comes from there, but of course [that] was just the beginning, so I keep working on it.”

Andrew Hill is even more of a crucial figure for her. She has put together a program of his music that she performs live with a trio or a quartet, but this is her first solo recording of one of his compositions. Her version of “Smoke Stack” offers repetitive, almost obsessive exploration of the melody, like she’s turning an intricately constructed machine over and over in her hands to see how it works.

In addition to playing solo, Premazzi is a one-woman operation offstage, releasing all but one of her albums herself. (Her 2013 release Lucid Dreamer was on Greg Osby’s Inner Circle label.) “The big problem is dealing with my procrastination, ‘OK, let’s work on this, let’s work on the cover, let’s call here and there,’” she says. “I have to really organize my actions and decide when to be effective with contacting people and putting steps together.”

“I like the idea of being the owner of my music and my masters and having total control over it, so that’s something that empowers me,” she continues. “I like the fact that I decide whatever I want, the order of tunes, by myself. I like being in control of my art, but I would like to have someone who does publicity for me.” DB



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