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PHOTO : Chris Shields

LOCAL BOY MAKES GOOD, AND STAYS LOCAL

 

Capital Region jazz luminary Brian Patneaude chooses to remain where he’s comfortable—and very successful

 

By B.A. Nilsson

 

No musician truly can be de scribed as shy, not when the job requires regular performances in front of an audience, especially not when those performances require jazz improvisation. When Brian Patneaude hoists his Selmer Mark VI and starts to blow, a hard-driving, melodically gifted personality shines through. When he stops to chat, the tempo changes. He speaks softly. He considers his words. He gives the impression that he’d be happier back on stage.

Patneaude has been working most visibly in the area as part of a quartet, with a regular Sunday gig at Justin’s on Lark Street in Albany, and frequent appearances at venues like One Caroline in Saratoga and Schenectady’s Stockade Inn.

“I like to think that the music we make as a group can be enjoyed by jazz fans and even people who don’t think they’re jazz fans,” he says. “It’s not something where I’m trying strictly to reach out to the jazz community.”

Patneaude is a local boy with long local roots. A graduate of the College of St. Rose, he has played with the Alex Torres Orchestra for seven years, and counts six years in William Meckley’s Empire Jazz Orchestra. You might spot him playing in the ensembles of Doc Scanlon, Keith Pray or any number of others—a roster that at one point even included the Refrigerators.

Also to his credit are appearances at jazz festivals in Saratoga, Montreal, Rochester and many other cities, as well as club gigs up and down the East Coast.

But his favorite performing configuration is the quartet he formed five years ago, a group now comprising guitarist George Muscatello, drummer Danny Whelchel and Mike DelPrete on bass, with frequent appearances by keyboardist Dave Payette. (This is, according to musical math, a special system that allowed Raymond Scott to front a six-man quintet.)

“I was born in Rotterdam, and, except for a brief spell in Cincinnati, I’ve been here all my life,” Patneaude says. “My family is here, and the fact that I’ve been able to make connections and build a living lets me be pretty comfortable doing what I do here.”

Music lessons began in the fifth grade. “I wanted to be a drummer, but for some reason—I think the school may have had too many of them—I was encouraged to take my second choice, which was the saxophone. That’s because I had a neighbor who was a couple of years older than me who used to practice his sax outside on his back porch, and I was impressed by that.”

Patneaude didn’t grow up surrounded by sax music. “The only record I remember in the house that featured the instrument was ‘Yakety Sax’ by Boots Randolph”—a tune best known for its use behind chase scenes on The Benny Hill Show.

It wasn’t love at first sight. “I wanted to drop it, but my parents were insistent. I didn’t start to listen to jazz until the ninth or 10th grade, and then I got a concept of what the instrument could sound like.” His band director helped by suggesting that Brian listen to a pair of albums: Michael Brecker’s self-titled debut, and David Sanborn’s Straight to the Heart.

“As soon as I heard them, I was blown away,” Patneaude says with a laugh. “From then on, I looked at the sax in a completely different light.” At the time, his favorite bands were groups like Rush and Pink Floyd.

PHOTO : Chris Shields

Patneaude also hadn’t given up on those drums. “My father had a kit in the basement, and I started playing in heavy-metal bands through high school. We were pretty horrible, but I was having a blast.” At the same time, he started playing saxophone with a band whose members all were older than he. “I was the only one in high school playing with them, and we were doing covers of Pink Floyd, Sting. This was music that would have a big influence on the music I play now. It’s not something I’m consciously aware of—I’m not trying to re-create it—but I know it’s been an influence.”

His listening expanded while he was in college. “I was obsessed with players like Hank Mobley, John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Joe Henderson, and especially Charlie Parker. I love Charlie Parker, I still study his recordings.”

Gigs with ever-more-prestigious ensembles followed, until his own quartet was born in 2002. Guitarist George Muscatello and Patneaude have been friends since they met while in college together, and the interplay between the two gives the remarkable experience of hearing what often seem like one voice in two contrasting dialects.

The quartet’s first CD release, Variations, won high praise from AllAboutJazz.com’s Alexander M. Stern, who noted that it was “an impressive first effort which leaves the listener eagerly awaiting the Brian Patneaude Quartet’s second and third albums.”

The group’s second disc, Distance, released two years ago, featured seven original compositions by Patneaude in which utilized the sax as a lyrical instrument, expressing emotions with a sound quality at times approaching that of human singing. He continues to explore the lyrical voice of his instrument in throbbing, straight-ahead grooves in the new CD, As We Know It, released (like its predecessor) on WEPA Records. “That’s a label that Alex Torres started, at first just to distribute his recordings. But it’s not like a traditional label—it’s more of a banner to put the music under. It has expanded to include recordings by pianist Adrian Cohen, Terry Gordon, who plays trumpet in Torres’ band, myself and others.”

With so many recent changes in CD distribution, WEPA has successfully bypassed the brick-and-mortar model and makes its CDs available through such online sources as CDBaby.com, which also sets up digital distribution so that you can find the music at the iTunes store, Yahoo Music and other such sites.

No enterprising artist lacks a Web site, and brianpatneaude.com features the saxophonist’s complete performance schedule as well as information about recordings and his teaching schedule. He teaches three days a week at Blue Sky Music Studios in Delmar, which greatly helps support his work as a full-time musician—and, while it’s the closest he gets to a desk job, “I do it with my sax in my hand, so how bad can that be?”

He also started and maintains albany jazz.com, which began life five years ago as a simple calendar of all the area jazz performances he could discover, and has since grown to a sharp-looking, well-maintained locus of all manner of info on the area jazz scene. “We have so many musicians here playing jazz at a high level that I wanted to let people know where to find them,” he says. “Now it includes photos, bios, performing venues, CD and concert reviews and more. Musicians have told me they’ve even gotten gigs through the site.”

Despite an ongoing immersion in jazz, Patneaude confesses that his guilty iPod pleasure would be Metallica. “But I don’t know if that’s even very guilty,” he adds. “I like guitarist Joe Satriani, and I’m a big fan of E.S.T., the Esbjorn Svensson Trio, a jazz group from Sweden [who have] an incredible range of sounds. And I always go back to Michael Brecker.”

For several years, Patneaude has won plaudits from area critics and reader polls. It would seem enough to persuade him to seek a more lucrative base. But he’s happy here, and has no plans to decamp, say, to Manhattan. Nevertheless, he wouldn’t mind finding gigs farther afield. “I’d like to crack into the festival scene,” he says. “We played the Albany Riverfront Festival a couple of years ago, and last year the quartet played the Kingston Jazz Festival alongside some of the biggest names in the business. We’d like to do more of that.”

Local artists frequently complain of what I’ve termed Local-Guy-Itis, which assumes that anyone who chooses to live here mustn’t be as talented as an out-of-towner. Has this been a problem?

“I don’t know if we would have gotten into Albany Riverfront if we didn’t have a local background. As for Kingston, we submitted material the same as any other performer. It’s a stigma I’ve heard other musicians talk about, but so far, I haven’t felt it.”

Patneaude is writing new songs, writing new charts (he tries them out with Keith Pray’s Big Soul Ensemble the first Tuesday of each month at Tess’ Lark Tavern) and thinking about the next CD, which may be a live recording. “I’ve been taping the Sunday night shows at Justin’s,” he says, “and, while it’s nothing I’m going to put out yet, there have been some magical moments.”

Brian Patneaude’s just-released third CD, As We Know It, will be celebrated with a release party at 8 PM on April 20 at the WAMC Performing Arts Studio (339 Central Ave., Albany).


ROUGH MIX

Got Rough Mix items? Contact Kathryn Lurie at klurie@metroland.net or 463-2500 ext. 143.



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