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Upstate New York Jazz: Brian Patneaude, Lee Shaw, Steve Lambert

J Hunter By

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A famous New Yorker cover shows Manhattan in detail up to the Hudson River, and then the rest of the nation is one small, faceless block. Jazz in the Empire State is seen the same way—everything in Manhattan, nothing in the hinterlands. But a few hours up the New York Thruway is Albany, birthplace of vibes wizard Stefon Harris and resting-place of the late baritone-sax legend Nick Brignola. The Capital region is home to a vibrant club, festival, and recording scene, featuring musicians that have either gotten international airplay or should get it in short order. Here are three examples:

Brian Patneaude

With Riverview, tenor man Brian Patneaude steps outside his comfort zone, recruiting guitarist Mike Moreno and keyboardist Jesse Chandler for Patneaude's first date without most of his longtime quartet; Patneaude Quartet drummer Danny Whelchel rounds out the band on Riverview. Thanks to Between the Lines (World Culture Music, 2007) and his work with keyboardist Aaron Parks, Moreno's reputation has skyrocketed in the last few years; Chandler is the quintessential journeyman, with his leaders ranging from singer Norah Jones to saxophonist David "Fathead" Newman.

Moreno's street cred may draw people who've never heard of Patneaude, but it will be Patneaude's music that keeps them listening. The opening title track echoes the music heard on the BPQ's WEPA releases Variations (2005), Distance (2007) and As We Know It (2008), but there's a buoyancy and a buzz that separates this piece from Patneaude's established catalog. While this music floats like a butterfly, it also stings like a bee. The irresistibly funky "Drop" is hit-and-run big fun, and the whirling reboot of the Distance track "Release" shows how much the piece and its composer have evolved.

Patneaude's entrancing tenor is equal parts Stan Getz and Michael Brecker, with ideas that grow exponentially and passion that flows like water down a cliff face. He's swinging for the fences on his own pieces, but his exemplary covers of Billy Strayhorn's "Chelsea Bridge" and Don Grolnick's "The Cost of Living" show deep love for past masters. Whelchel may have a bigger impact when he's embellishing than when he steps out front: the drummer's sense of what drives a piece further is impeccable, and the deep chemistry he shares with Patneaude brings more sizzle to the date. Moreno doesn't rock out like he did on Parks' Invisible Cinema (Blue Note, 2008), but his otherworldly sound more than makes up for that, as does the sensational conversation he and Chandler have on Patneaude's "By Reason of the Soil."

For anyone familiar with Patneaude, Riverview is just another notch on an increasingly satisfying creative growth curve. For new comers, though, Riverview will be a welcome discovery of a player with fresh insight and limitless potential.

Visit Brian Patneaude on the web.

Lee Shaw Trio

As someone in her sixth decade as a professional jazz pianist, Lee Shaw would be forgiven if she stuck with an Old School sound. Instead, the octogenarian educator has been expanding her musical comfort zone with an assist from her longtime rhythm section—bassist Rich Syracuse and Jeff "Siege" Siegel. As much of an influence on her as she is on them, the Lee Shaw Trio has developed a "family" aesthetic that is as riveting as the music on Blossom, their fourth release as a unit.

"Fats' Blues" is a cooking Fats Navarro tune that would have been an excellent up-tempo disc opener; Shaw's forceful, sassy attack combines a delightful sense of whimsy with a genuine love for the standard and the time it came from. Instead, Shaw and her partners chose to open Blossom with the title track, a pastoral waltz that begins with Shaw's in-the-clear, ruminative figure and then literally blossoms like a garden in springtime. Shaw's piano dances, Syracuse diligently counters, and Siegel makes the cymbals sizzle with some serious brush work. It's a gorgeous picture, and the whole band paints it.

Syracuse and Siegel have big voices, and both get plenty of exercise on Blossom. The pair's meditative groove sets the tone for Shaw's "Algo Triste," one of two long-form pieces on the disc. The other is "Shifting Sands," a Siegel composition most recently heard on Siege's own quartet disc Live in Europe (ARC, 2008). Shaw gives the hypnotic piece a gorgeous texture worthy of Bill Evans, working the haunting melody while Syracuse goes to town on his solo. Syracuse contributes two pieces of his own (the hard-bopping "Cool Jack" and the mid-tempo blues "Sleeper"), and a splendid time is had on both.

Johnny Guarneri's "Virtuoso Rag" has that Old School sound Shaw might have pursued. She certainly has a blast with the solo-piano piece, working the tempo up and down as she attacks the tune with an unbridled joy. But Shaw shows nothing but joy on Blossom, whether she's playing the Carnaval-inspired "Holiday" or the sweetly sad "Nipper's Dream." This music works because this group loves to play it, and loves to work with each other. No surprise: the family that plays together, stays together.

Visit The Lee Shaw Trio on the web.

Steve Lambert

The lively, sextet-baseg trad jazz on May—trumpeter and flugelhornist Steve Lambert's debut as a leader—has been kicking around the Capital region for some time, appearing sporadically at Jazz Appreciation Month concerts over the last few years. Lambert finally got his vision recorded in 2009, and it delivers on all the promises it made.

Lambert's name is the only one on the disc cover, but the front line is the three-headed star of May, establishing its dominance immediately on the hard-charging opener "Double Tough." The piece is barely out of the gate before Lambert's trumpet and Brian Patneaude's tenor sax teams up with Keith Pray's alto for thick-but-quick three-part harmony that hits like a semi with no brakes. When this trio flies formation, as they do on "Double" and "Steve's Tune," it's a physical experience; when they engage in the complex trade-offs Lambert wrote for Jimmy van Heusen's "Like Someone in Love," it's a jaw-dropper. Their devastating three-part vocalization of Kurt Weill's "Mack the Knife" is like watching the acrobats of Cirque du Soleil: what they're attempting doesn't seem possible, and yet they do it with practiced ease.

It's easy to throw long bombs like Jule Styne's "It's You or No One" and Lambert's Charlie Parker-influenced "Entomology" when the team has an atomic-powered rhythm section like drummer Joe Barna and bassist Mike DelPrete. But May gets truly impressive when Lambert and his partners delve into the nuance of it all. The title track—dedicated to Lambert's aunt, whose art graces the front cover—has all the makings of a ballad, including Lambert's obvious affection for the subject. However, the foundation cooks a little too hot, pianist Dave Solazzo's solo burns a little too bright, and the overall result just glows. "Bellicose Belle" operates like a standard mid-tempo piece, except this tasty soul-jazz groove plays peek-a-boo throughout the tune, infusing it with a savory smoke-filled flavor.

May isn't just the first of (hopefully) many great recordings by a talented leader. It's also a taste of what musical treasures live just a few hours north of Manhattan, happily disproving the idea that all creativity stops on the Jersey side of the George Washington Bridge.

Visit Steve Lambert on the web.

Tracks and Personnel


Tracks: Riverview; By Reason of the Soil; Jolo; The Cost of Living; Release; Drop; Chelsea Bridge; Life as We Know It.

Personnel: Brian Patneaude: tenor sax; Mike Moreno: guitar; Jesse Chandler: organ; Danny Whelchel: drums.


Tracks: Blossom; Fats' Blues; Blues 11; Holiday; Algo Triste; Cool Jack; Sleeper; Shifting Sands; Virtuoso Rag; Nipper's Dream.

Personnel: Lee Shaw: piano; Rich Syracuse: bass; Jeff "Siege" Siegel: drums.


Tracks: Double Tough; May; Steve's Tune; Like Someone in Love; Entomology; It's You or No One; Bellicose Belle; Yearning Lost; Mack the Knife.

Personnel: Steve Lambert: trumpet, flugelhorn; Keith Pray: alto sax; Brian Patneaude: tenor sax; Dave Solazzo: piano; Mike DelPrete: bass; Joe Barna: drums.


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