Any self-help guru will tell you that you never get a second chance to make a first impression. In jazz, that truism can easily apply to debut albums: You only get to make one. A strong first album can set the pace for the rest of an artist’s career as a leader. Think of debuts like Joe Henderson’s Page One
or Jeff “Tain” Watts’ Citizen Tain
. If the Brian Patneaude Quartet’s maiden voyage, Variations,
is any indication, we’ll be hearing a great deal from this group in years to come.
The album takes its title from guitarist George Muscatello’s composition “Variations on a Variation,” which is as good a description as any for the music on this CD. Each member of the quartet contributes one or more of the compositions, and each track reflects the character of its composer. As the author of six out of the album’s nine tracks, it would be easy to say that Muscatello is the prevailing voice here, but the cooperative spirit of the band helps to overcome this and make sure that no one musician dominates the proceedings. Muscatello is both a strong composer and an excellent guitarist, however, demonstrating the influence of Pat Metheny and Pat Martino in his playing and Leo Brouwer in his writing. Muscatello’s moods range from the pensive - as in the title track - to the playful, as heard on “Tons of Fun,” the CD’s closer.
Although he wrote only two of the tunes, saxophonist/leader Brian Patneaude amply demonstrates why his name resides alongside the title. A powerful tenor who combines the seemingly incompatible influences of Michael Brecker and Joe Lovano, Patneaude keeps a tight reign on the proceedings while allowing each musician the freedom to do his own thing. The band operates as a single entity, and that in itself is a tribute to Patneaude’s leadership. Both of his compositions are tributes to saxophonists – “Jolo” to Lovano and “Freedom Trane” to both Eddie Harris and John Coltrane – and Patneaude is indeed a worthy disciple. He’s clearly been listening hard to his heroes, taking their teachings to heart and creating something wholly original. Definitely one to watch.
Not to be overlooked, bassist Ryan Lukas and drummer Danny Whelchel each contribute one composition (Whelchel co-writing the enigmatically titled “Hide the Fat Guy” with Muscatello). Their interaction creates a complex but rock solid rhythmic groundwork upon which Patneaude and Muscatello weave their harmonic magic. Lukas’s “The Longing” is a showcase for his engaging finger-work. Whelchel’s drumming is a treat throughout the album. His accents and cymbal splashes punctuating his colleagues’ statements, contributing a sort of rhythmic equivalent to Flaubert’s la mot juste.
Variations is an impressive first effort which leaves the listener eagerly awaiting the Brian Pateneaude Quartet’s second and third albums.
Personnel: Brian Patneaude - tenor saxophone,
George Muscatello - guitar,
Ryan Lukas - bass,
Danny Whelchel - drums.