A Few Minutes With… Brian Patneaude

Brian Patneaude
Brian Patneaude

Interview and story by J Hunter
Photographs by Michael P. Farrell

One thing I’ve been meaning to do is put a milk bottle next to my computer and use it as the equivalent of a “swear box”: Instead of chucking a quarter in every time I let my serial Tourettes get away from me, I’d put a quarter in the bottle every time I use a word or phrase way too much to describe an artist or an artist’s work. For instance, if I put a quarter in the bottle every time I used the term “growth curve” when writing about tenorman Brian Patneaude, I’d be able to do laundry until 2016. But here’s the problem: The phrase keeps fitting the purpose. For five releases – Patneaude’s 2003 debut “Variations” to his brand new disc “All Around Us” – Patneaude has shown himself to be a little bit stronger, a little bit better, and (most importantly) a little bit different with each release.

Anyone who’s followed Patneaude’s musical journey will listen to “All Around Us” and recognize elements of past songs in the blissful “Lake Timeless,” the pulsing “Orb,” or the frenetic “Blucosele.” However, those same listeners will have to acknowledge that there’s much more to Patneaude’s performance than just doing the same thing a little bit differently: His sound is broader; his writing searches deeper; and his solos are edgier with more than a hint of snarl at their peak. You can still hear the influence of the late Michael Brecker, but Patneaude’s always kept his ears open for new influences from today and yesterday. Allowing himself to grow and change has kept his music and his approach fresh, both with his own band and with the hard-bop classics he’s been playing with Michael Benedict’s Bopitude.

Speaking of bands, “All Around Us” may have Patneaude’s name at the top of the masthead, but this disc is the first recorded sighting of the Brian Patneaude Quartet – now featuring monster pianist David Caldwell-Mason – since the 2007 release “As We Know It.” Patneaude took time out of his preparations for his Saturday (March 3) CD release party at the College of Saint Rose’s Massry Center to talk about this, as well as some of the changes in his professional and personal life that have made the growth curve steepen that much more.

(See? I’m out 50 cents already!)

Q: Personally, you’re in a very different place then when “Variations” came out in 2003: You’re now a homeowner, and you’re engaged to be married. How has all this domestic bliss effected you as a musician? I mean, artists are supposed to suffer, right?

A: It’s hard to believe almost ten years have passed since releasing that first recording! So much has changed, and yet so much has remained the same. There are times I feel like that same twenty-something kid who just moved back to town from Cincinnati. That said, I’d like to think that the developments in my personal life over the years have had a positive effect on my life as a musician. For example, living in a house, instead of an apartment, means I have a bit more freedom when it comes to when I can practice. Having a fiancé who is supportive of my music career is definitely a plus, as well. 

Q: Another thing that’s different from back in the day is that your primary foil nowadays is David Caldwell-Mason. You’ve worked with keyboardists before, but they were more of an addition to an established sound rather than a change in your direction. Could you talk a little about the process of going from guitar-as-foil to piano-as-foil – and talk a little about playing with David, who I think is absolutely epic?

A: When I write songs, I typically do it in one of two ways – on the saxophone or on the piano. Over the years, I’ve had many a conversation with George Muscatello about transitioning my tunes from the piano to the guitar. To his credit, George worked wonders with the material I originally wrote on piano, but the more I continued to write in that fashion, the more I wondered what the songs would sound like performed by a pianist.

I first met David at a jam session many years ago, and we’ve played together from time to time since then. At one point we did a handful of gigs where we played some of my original songs. It was really great to hear the music on piano, and David really knocked me out with his interpretations of the songs – plus he committed all the music to memory for just a couple of one-off gigs. His level of dedication to the music was – and continues to be – really inspiring.

Q: You’ve always played with other bands – Alex Torres, Big Soul Ensemble – but you’re currently part of  Michael Benedict’s Bopitude, a group that’s really been getting some heavy reaction: The debut disc has been charting quite well, and the band absolutely tore it up when you played Albany Riverfront Jazz Fest last year. How did playing in a band that does nothing but standards – meaning you’re working pathways that were cut by some of the genre’s true legends – effect you as a player? Also, how much fun was it to work with Bruce Barth, who is one of my favorite pianists on the scene today, and what’s it been like working with Gary Smulyan on the upcoming Bopitude disc?
A: Although my initial path to jazz was paved by contemporary musicians like Michael Brecker, David Sanborn and the Yellowjackets, I developed a love of hard bop jazz during my college years. I became infatuated with the music of Hank Mobley, Joe Henderson and Horace Silver, among others, so it’s been a treat to perform that style of jazz with Bopitude. Mike’s a great bandleader and allows us all creative license to be ourselves within the confines of the style, which is really fun. Working with Bruce and Gary has been incredibly fun as well. Both are world renowned musicians, and both are completely down to earth.

Q: Your last disc “Riverview” was kinda-sorta a pick-up group situation (if you can call any band with Mike Moreno in it a “pick-up group”). How did it feel to get back in the studio with your regular band – particularly with Mike DelPrete, who had been part of BPQ for quite some time?

A: It was really great to record with the regular band once again. Mike took a little hiatus from playing for a while – a “paternity leave,” if you will – but returned to the group last spring. His bass playing is so rock-solid, and he and Danny have a musical hook-up that is like nothing else. The four of us spent last summer playing the material on the new album at various venues, so by the time we got to the studio in the fall, the music was ready to be documented.

Q: How important has it been for you to have Danny Whelchel involved on every recording you’ve made as a leader, including “Riverview”?

A: I can’t imagine playing any of my music with anyone but Danny playing drums. We’ve known each other for nearly 15 years, and have been playing music in one form or another the entire time. We come from a similar musical background, having arrived at jazz via instrumental metal and fusion, so I feel we’re able to interpret the music in a similar way. When I write tunes, I usually have some sort of idea what I’d like from each of the instruments: Sometimes it’s written parts, sometimes it’s more open for interpretation. For a while I would offer Danny suggestions for drum parts, but he always came up with something a million times better. Now we’re at the point where I write a song, play it for him, and he just does his thing – and it’s totally perfect for the tune every time.

Q: In the liner notes to “All Around Us,” you credit “people, places and events during the past few years of my life” as the inspiration for all the new music, and that you’ve “discovered that inspiration is found all around us.” As a longtime fan of your music, I have to ask: Where did you get your inspiration before, and how did this discovery change your approach to composition?

A: Inspiration has always come from various sources for me, many of which were musically oriented. Yes, I’ve written about friends and family before, but I’ve also written a bunch of songs that were inspired by other music and the musicians that I admired. This new record is kind of special to me in the fact that every single song can be traced to a person, place or event in my own life over the past few years. I’m still inspired by my musical heroes, but as I get older, I’m finding inspiration in different places.

Q: You’ve said that “Double Trio” (my favorite track on “All Around Us”) was inspired by seeing Joshua Redman in concert. I didn’t see the Double Trio show, but we both saw Redman when he was here with James Farm last year, and I know he made both our heads explode. What do you take from Josh, both as a player and a composer?

A: For me, that concert was a really special night, not only because of the music, but because it was the first jazz performance my fiancé and I ever attended together. The energy that Josh and the group created was so infectious that it made a jazz newbie sit up and take notice. I think those are some of the things I enjoy most about Redman – the emotion he pours into his craft and his ability to connect with an audience. His tunes are melodic enough to draw in listeners from outside the jazz realm and yet sophisticated enough to appeal to the jazz crowd.

Q: Wayne Shorter’s “Juju” pops up in the middle of “All Around Us.” How has your approach to the tune changed from when you first played it with George Muscatello’s old band all those years ago? Was the trade-off section with Danny on this recording always part of the piece?

A: I had no idea what I was doing when I played Wayne Shorter’s music with George back in the day. Seriously, I was struggling just to keep up! Having learned a bit about harmony over the years, I’m able to dig in a bit more these days, and I really appreciate Wayne’s ability to write incredibly complex yet melodic music. The arrangement for “Juju” was born on the bandstand – including the trading section with Danny. To keep things interesting, we trade sections of eight and sixteen bars back and forth.

Q: Should we expect any big surprises during your drop party at the Massry Center on Saturday – special guests, special effects, special introductions?

A: Guess folks will have to show up to find out…

Saxophonist-composer Brian Patneaude will bring along the rest of his quartet to celebrate the release of his fifth CD, “All Around Us,” at 7:30pm on Saturday (March 3) at the College of Saint Rose’s Massry Center in Albany. Priced at $10, advance tix are available here.

Brian Patneaude
Brian Patneaude

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