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Sal Prizio

Danny Whelchel

Mike Parker & Brian Patneaude

David Caldwell-Mason

Joe Barna

Jon Gordon, Joe Magnarelli

Lou Smaldone

Adam Siegel, Dylan Canterbury, Lee Russon

Theo Hill

Photos by Rudy Lu

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"An Evening of Jazz" feat.
Brian Patneaude Quartet
Joe Barna & Sketches of Influence CD Release
Massry Center for the Arts
Albany, NY
March 17, 2011

by J Hunter

Holding a “drop party” for your new CD is not complicated: You get all the players from your disc, play all the tunes on the disc, point the audience to the table where the disc is being sold, and you’re done. What the audience got at the drop party for Joe Barna’s new release Blowin’ it Out was a celebration – not just of the disc, but of the entire Capital Region jazz scene, and both Barna and Massry Center impresario Salvatore Prizio deserve big love for building a truly outstanding show.

This evening was originally scheduled as a mix of classical music and jazz, the jazz portion being supplied by CSR alum Brian Patneaude. (“I graduated in… some time ago,” Patneaude admitted to us.) When Prizio joined up with Massry and Blowin’ was ready to hatch, he changed the gig to an all-jazz night. Never one to shrink from a challenge, Patneaude was packing all-new material when he led his quartet onto Massry’s immaculate stage. The bright opener “Lake Timeless” – inspired by the beauty of Schroon Lake – had the tenorman starting in the clear, but the rest of the band didn’t wait long to dive in the deep end. The piece definitely got the gig off the ground even as it conjured thoughts of another drop party sometime in the future.

David Caldwell-Mason’s constructions have a classical base as well as a classic jazz base, and this element infuses Patneaude’s music with a palpable maturity. The pianist’s marvelous lyricism softened the meditative “Orb” and gave Patneaude a terrific foil on everything else; Caldwell-Mason also contributed a buzzing Fender Rhodes sound to “Too Vast for Malice”, recalling Patneaude’s third disc As We Know It. Mike Parker may have an aversion to traditional footwear – he played the set in his stocking feet – but he’s got a big fat sound and a solid sense of counter, both on double bass and Fender, and his vibrant foundation let drummer Danny Whelchel stick and move like the heavyweight he is. (Whelchel’s also got a pretty good comic side, which he showed during Patneaude’s “tasteful” introduction to the closer “Blucocele.”)

Now, if you’re the second act on a double bill, the “traditional” drop-party strategy is to give the first act a brief nod before getting down to the business at hand. But the “traditional” didn’t even get a look: As he was re-arranging his cymbals before the blitzing opener “Sudden Lee”, Barna gave an impassioned speech about everything Patneaude’s done for jazz in this area, from creating this very web site to organizing the online petition demanding Justin’s keep playing live jazz. “This guy deserves a big round of applause for being him,” Barna declared.

And then Barna got down to business, and business was good – and when I say “good”, I mean “awesome.” Joe Magnarelli and Jon Gordon remind me of Horace Silver’s front line every time I hear them, and their aggressive attack on “Sudden” was right on the mark. Barna claims Gordon is the best soprano sax player around, and on this night it was impossible to argue the point, particularly after his wild explorations on the Coltrane-esque “The Purpose.” As bold and sharp as Magnarelli is on trumpet, he’s also the only horn player I know who can bust a flugelhorn out of its traditional “romantic” stance. Magnarelli’s muscular sound really lifted the bossa “Teardrops from Home,” which Barna wrote during one of his more destructive relationships. (“But I didn’t propose!” Barna exulted after revealing the piece’s genesis.)

One of the wild cards Barna had up his sleeve was pianist Theo Hill, a former Lee Shaw student who’s been leaving some serious marks on the downstate scene. Hill didn’t just own everything he touched; he re-created it in his own image, displaying an organic sense of melody and composition that had everybody gasping. His intro to “Ivory Romance” eschewed the disc’s crystalline sound in favor of a flowing dissertation that made you wonder if a mad scientist had cloned Herbie Hancock. Hill and Gordon did “Ivory” as a riveting duet; Barna pulled the rest of the band offstage, giving the pair the full spotlight.

The other wild cards came in the form of Lee Russo, Dylan Canterbury and Adam Siegel, the special guests on “A Rose for Pam”, a piece Barna wrote for his mother years ago. (“None of this is possible without her,” he asserted as he presented his mom with… What else? A rose!) “Rose” started life as another Barna bossa, but Canterbury took the tune and re-booted it as a Freddie Hubbard/CTI-style cruiser, and the results were tremendous, even though the front line suffered from a lack of microphones. Then again, if you’re going to play off-mic, Massry is the place to do it, so we lost none of Canterbury’s roaring trumpet, Russo’s rich tenor, or Siegel’s Katana-sharp alto.

Barna was Barna, which means he took no prisoners, and had a blast-and-a-half while he did it. “This is a CD-release party,” he declared. “Not a CD-release funeral!” He also took the opportunity to thank a lot of people: He prefaced “Ivory” with an impassioned tribute to Lee Shaw, inciting the crowd to give the Capital Region’s reigning jazz icon a standing ovation; before the closer “Blow it Out”, he gathered everyone who helped him in some way during the birth of Blowin’ and had them pose for a picture at the front of the stage. (We’re talking about 25 people, including most of the albanyjazz staff!) The haters can think what they want, but Joe Barna isn’t just a great drummer – he’s a great man, with a huge heart and a serious sense of gratitude. We saw all of it on this night, and it was one of many things that made this a drop party like no other.

J HUNTER is a former announcer/producer for radio stations in the Capital Region and the Bay Area, including KSJS/San Jose (where he was Assistant Music Director/Jazz Programming) and Q104 WQBK/Albany. He is a frequent contributor to the web site All About Jazz and to the monthly music magazine State of Mind. He currently resides in Clifton Park.