Blindfold Test: Noah Preminger


This is Noah Preminger’s first Blindfold Test.

(Photo: Robert Torres)

Even before saxophonist Noah Preminger topped the Rising Star–Tenor Saxophone category in the 2017 DownBeat Critics Poll, he’d issued a handful of leader dates, including a protest album, Meditations On Freedom, which was released the same day President Donald Trump took office. On Oct. 15, SteepleChase is set to issue his quartet album Contemptment. This is Preminger’s first Blindfold Test.

Walter Smith III

“The Peacocks” (Twio, Whirlwind 2018) Smith, tenor saxophone; Harish Ragavhan, bass; Eric Harland, drums.

That’s Walter Smith, “The Peacocks,” correct? I’m not super familiar with his playing. He strikes me as somebody who’s really confident in what he has to say. I feel like he’s very confident in what he knows and what his abilities are. He doesn’t try to fill up space. He’s a melodic player. He has a very monotone sound to me; it’s very even. He doesn’t have a particularly big sound—sort of like a Joe Henderson kind of thing. I really like that drummer, but I can’t put a name to who that is. Nice track: concise, short-and-sweet, good energy. I would give that 3½ stars.


“Frida” (Artemis, Blue Note, 2020) Melissa Aldana, tenor saxophone; Anat Cohen, bass clarinet, clarinet; Ingrid Jensen, trumpet; Renee Rosnes, piano; Noriko Ueda, bass; Allison Miller, drums.

That track sounds so 2010s to me. Frank Kimbrough told me that if a tune has that many hits, it’s just not worth playing it. The tenor player has clearly got some chops and a nice even tone, but he never felt really comfortable on the tune, never really dug into the time at all.

[after] No kidding? I’ve only heard her a couple times. The first time she was coming straight out of Brecker, which is what is on this track. The next two times I heard her she was coming straight out of Mark Turner’s playing. That ensemble, that tune, doesn’t help, either. It sounds like somebody wrote a tune for their college recital, and they all got together that day to run it down, and then they tried to play it that night. I’m going to give that 1½ stars.

Chris Potter

“You And The Night And The Music” (Concentric Circles, Concord, 1994) Potter, alto saxophone; Kenny Werner, piano; Scott Colley, bass; Bill Stewart, drums.

Everything about that track sounds familiar. The bass player is very Charlie Haden-esque. The alto player has a lot of freedom in his fingers, which is something I love to hear. His fingers don’t necessarily hold him back, which is a sign of a real improviser. I could sing the solo to you. Beautiful playing, and they play beautifully together.

I’m just cycling through alto players right now. It’s a tenor player playing alto? I knew it wasn’t an alto player, because I can hear it in his sound. Oh, man, I’m going to hate myself for asking you who it is, but who is it? [after] No, is it really? What record is that on? OK. It doesn’t sound like Chris Potter. I give it 3½ stars.

Immanuel Wilkins

“Ferguson–An American Tradition” (Omega, Blue Note, 2020) Wilkins, alto saxophone; Micah Thomas, piano; Daryl Johns, bass; Kweku Sumbry, drums.

Whoever the alto player is, I really like him. He expresses himself in different ways with the horn that aren’t so common. It sounds like he’s really looking for some other shit, and is really expressive. It adds a lot to the music. I know there’s that new guy, who’s getting a lot of work on alto ... Wilkins? Clearly Immanuel Wilkins has a bright future. He can play his ass off. I look forward to hearing his next record. I would give that 4 stars. They sound great together.

James Brandon Lewis

“Haden Is Beauty” (An UnRuly Manifesto, 2019) Lewis, tenor saxophone; Jaimie Branch, trumpet; Luke Stewart, bass; Anthony Pirog, guitar; Warren Trae Crudup III, drums.

That was great, man. 5 stars. I have no idea who that was. It obviously brings to mind Ornette [Coleman], “What Reason Could I Give,” that first track off of Science Fiction. Beautiful front-line ensemble playing, and the consistent rumble from the rhythm section. It’s understated and kind of a folk melody. It serves a purpose, this tune. I think it misses nothing. I enjoyed every minute of it. Somebody like that, I should see their name everywhere.


“Subway Song” (Act II, 2015) Ben Wendel, tenor saxophone; Harish Raghavan, bass; Nate Wood, drums.

Killing. Give them all the stars, and I got a message to the gatekeepers—you know, the cats that run the scene: That shit works! Music like that is music that should be performed, in public, in front of an audience. That’s who you hustle for. Nice balance, nice tone, has a lot to say. He’s got that whiskey tongue but he makes it work for him. I don’t know what the rest of this cat’s music sounds like, but I want to hear it, ’cause it’s terrific. I could listen to that all day. Great sound on the recording. Now, you have to tell me: Who was that?

[after] Get out of here—wow. Well, all I’ll say is I wish Ben would make more music like that. I can’t believe that’s Ben Wendel. I’m going to write him a message after hearing that.


“The Honeymoon” (3 Nights In L.A., Fuzzy Music 2019) George Garzone, tenor saxophone; Peter Erskine, drums; Alan Pasqua, piano; Darek Oles, bass.

I feel like I’ve heard that a billion times. It’s super swinging. The tenor player’s got free fingers, which I love. And he’s doing shit articulation-wise that creates tension and release. He’s doing shit time-wise—behind the beat, on the beat, on top of the beat, in the beat—that creates tension and release. Harmonically, he’s all over the horn. Yeah, I love that style of playing. Is that Jerry Bergonzi? Garzone? OK, yeah. I studied with George my freshman year in college when I was 18. We had 6 a.m. lessons. I would stay up until my lesson at 6, and then I would go to sleep after it and miss all my classes. I’m so happy that was Garzone. I’ve got to transcribe that solo. DB

The “Blindfold Test” is a listening test that challenges the featured artist to discuss and identify the music and musicians who performed on selected recordings. The artist is then asked to rate each tune using a 5-star system. No information is given to the artist prior to the test.

This story originally was published in the November 2020 issue of DownBeat. Subscribe here.

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