Triangulation is a pretty useful method to determine where you’re at. You take a couple known reference points, you check the angles, you extrapolate, and then you get that third point. And when you’ve got all three, you can see the lay of the land.
It’s also a handy tool for measuring the development of a musician’s sound. Much can be revealed over the course of three albums. Musicians who embrace the search for their sound, who accept the challenge with hard work and enthusiasm, charting their development with a little triangulation makes for a nifty device.
Tenor saxophonist Brian Patneaude just gave us point number three.
The key to the Albums of Three rule is in accurately picking the “first” album. You can’t just start anywhere. You gotta find an album where the musician says something new, makes a statement about the shape of their music to come.
Patneaude’s first album was Variations, released back in 2003, and followed two years later with Distance. Both are solid albums with plenty of decent jazz, but nothing that would set them apart from all the other decent jazz released at that time. But there was a peek into where his sound was going on the title track to Distance, a little something that was incongruous to what came before, that didn’t quite fit in the flow of the rest of the album… but in a good way. Sort of how a new house with innovative modern architecture can look totally out of place on a block of older classic Victorian homes, but still enhance the quality of the block just because the craftsmanship and design on the new addition is so peculiarly intriguing. That was how the song “Distance”, from the album of the same name, stood out from the other tunes.
But it wasn’t until 2007’s As We Know It that Patneaude’s current sound broke from the soil and showed itself to the world. It was a startling development, both in terms of its unexpectedness, but also in the huge leap it had made from the previous album. Displaying a lyricism shining through the sound of setting sun mist, Patneaude gave a tip of the hat to modern jazz introversion and ambiance while simultaneously embracing the 1980s sound of blistering melodies a la Brecker Brothers. It also made it an easy pick for album number one of three… the starting point.
The foray into that sound continued with 2009’s excellent Riverview, in which he wielded the sound with more confidence, both through his play and the compositions. Riverview didn’t just expand on the ideas of its predecessor; it doubled-down on them. Soloists were allowed to wander further from base camp. The presence of tranquil introversion was amped up another level. Melodies burned brighter, but with an emphasis on brightness over heat. And if As We Know It was the time just after sunset, then Riverview was the hours as the night comes to a close… a shimmering electricity that refuses to quit even after burning through a full tank of gas.
In addition to a rhythm line of drums and bass, both of these albums had Patneaude’s tenor sax matched up with guitar and Fender Rhodes/organ. The quavering notes of guitar and fuzzy notes of Rhodes & organ lent much to the moodiness of these albums, and were a deft counterbalance to the clean palate of Patneaude’s sax. They went a long way to setting the environment in which the soloists performed.
So, about All Around Us.
Your album personnel: Brian Patneaude (tenor sax), Mike DelPrete (acoustic bass), Danny Whelchel (drums, percussion), and David Caldwell-Mason (piano, fender rhodes).
After expanding outward the previous two albums, Patneaude has returned to home. In some ways, it resembles the straight-forward Distance, but listening to them side-by-side, the gulf that separates the two albums is unmistakable. The moodiness is most all gone, and introversion has become extroversion. And whereas on the previous two albums, Patneaude developed a sound more inclined to induce daydreaming, now it an affable warmth that he sends notes out with, an easy fireside chat. But it isn’t a break from the past, not by any means. A bit like he has stepped out from the woods and into the studio, but brought some of the forest mist and gurgling stream of previous albums along for the ride.
The change in Patneaude’s approach is noticeable right from the start. “Lake Timeless” opens the album with some wistful phrases from Patneaude on tenor while piano shades the composition from the edges, drums and bass building slow to end with a roar. But through it all, Patneaude maintains that extreme likability and warmth.
Never is this new warmth more pronounced than in Patneaude’s rendition of Wayne Shorter’s “Juju.” Patneaude takes Shorter’s intense song and approaches it with a congenial ease, his phrasing of the melody giving the sense of humming a little ditty. It’s a startling transformation, one that took me about half the duration of the song to even recognize what tune it was. It’s an outstanding track, one that demands return visits.
For All Around Us, Patneaude drops guitar from the line-up. This strategy works to the album’s benefit. The quartet uses the extra room to let their notes drift and float in space. And when they do put some pop into their solos, it’s with an unhurried ease that emphasizes an economical use of speed over an extravagant display of power.
It feels live an Arrival Point, that album three of three in this particular arc of Patneaude’s creative development has been achieved. From this listener’s perspective, it’s always a satisfying experience to hear an artist develop from one plateau to the next. As an album, All Around Us is a positive indication of the state of things, and a promising signpost of what lies ahead.
Released on the Wepa Records label. Jazz from the Albany, NY scene.
Download a free album track from Patneaude’s last four albums at AllAboutJazz, courtesy of the artist and label.