Traveling Well

Brian Patneaude Quartet
Distance (WEPA)

Seven original compositions comprise this second CD release from tenor saxist Patneaude, all of them deceptively accessible, flavored with rhythm and melody that’s fun and funky and sure to lift your spirits. But it’s also stuff that stays with you. The “Distance” of the title—it’s also the title of cut six—is what you’re invited to travel with this music.

And the title cut also gives an idea of the complexity of the tunes. Drummer Danny Whelchel stays busy throughout with a quiet but busy figure over which Patneaude spins a slow, almost melancholy figure. Everyone gets to shine, including Dave Payette on Fender Rhodes, who sits in on two other numbers as well.

You hear the ghosts of Michael Brecker and David Sanborn in Patneaude’s playing, but these are only part of a synthesis of sound and style that add up to a unique voice. His playing is lyrical, it’s introspective, but it keeps on driving.

“Change” is a bouncy, bossa-tinged number that sets up the new CD, letting us know that it’s a cooperative venture in which all of the players happily participate. George Muscatello’s guitar is a continual presence, shading the harmony and adding another degree of rhythmic complexity; when acoustic bass player Ryan Lukas steps out for a solo, you realize how fundamental his sound already has been throughout the piece.

Even a ballad like “Alone,” glistening with nice cymbal work by Whelchel, has a propulsion that keeps it from getting maudlin. With a compelling set of words, the tune would be a torch singer’s dream.

And that’s really Patneaude’s secret. He plays the sax as a lyrical instrument, well aware of its capacity to express emotions. It shares with the violin the capacity to most closely suggest the sound of human singing, and even in his busier passagework, Patneaude sings. Even the punchy effects in “Red,” one of the bouncier tunes on this disc, are rooted in lyricism.

The distance traveled is signified by “Unending,” the final cut, an 11-minute journey reminiscent in its rhythm of “Change,” but with a feeling of triumph attached—we’ve sung our songs and sung them well. A final bow for the individual players, and then they ease away. You’ll hit the play button again.

— B.A. Nilsson, Metroland, Albany, NY