The Capital District of New York state -- (Albany, Schenectady, Troy, Saratoga region) has always been rich in jazz talent and has a surprising amount of venues where jazz can be seen and heard. Many of them are small, but there are large venue too where all the heavy hitters come and perform. But weekend to weekend these folks who write, play and teach in this area provide many a memorable night of music.
This year is at about the halfway mark and three recordings jump to the top of the list.
The latest is Confluence (Artist Recording Collective), by alto saxophonist Keith pray, a mainstay of the jazz scene up here. It’s done with a cool band -- Chuck D'Aloia, guitar; Peter Tomlinson, piano; Lou Pappas, bass; and Jeff "Siege" Siegel on drums -- that swings effortlessly through a set largely written by Pray. Tossed in are songs by Jimmy Heath, Trane and a D’Aloia original.
Prays playing is always on the money. He floats and skates around the melodies with the right dash of verve and grit. His light tone is captivating and his ideas solid. A ballad tells a lot about a person’s playing and Song for Katie shows Pray’s ability to convey emotion and melt hearts. As a writer, the tunes are sweet. The arrangement of Heath’s Gingerbread Boy runs of the path a bit, but delightfully so. Trane’s Africa adds da funk to da disk. Engaging. Everyone is up to the task of the varied themes. Seigel is always a tasty, tasty muthafucka on the drums.
A special addition is that of D’Aloia, a scorching guitarist who’s resume includes the late Capital District jazz icon Nick Brignola, as well as Kenny Werner, Randy Brecker, Pat LaBarbara, Claudio Roditi, Jimmy Cobb and a bunch of others. He’s not usually found in clubs with Pray (I believe he has moved away from the area), but adds a great texture to the sounds with his tone and dexterity. Love his solo on Africa. These are fine musicians.
Out for a while now is a hot disk led by drummer Michal Benedict & Bopitude, Five and One (Planet Arts) . It’s a different animal, in that it has three horns out front, including the remarkable Gary Smulyan on baritone sax. Brian Patneaude, a local monster, plays the tenor and Chris Pasin handle the trumpet work. The delectable Bruce Barth plays the shit out of the piano and Mike Lawrence is on bass. It’s the second recording for this lineup, and as their name suggests, it’s heavy on bop.
The band kicks ass and takes names forging thru a variety of warhorse tunes by Sonny Stitt, Thad Jones, J.J. Johnson, Hank Mobley, Kenny Dorham and others. It’s pretty typical head-solos-head stuff you’d have heard in a club in the early 1950s. That’s OK. They knock the shit out of this stuff. The solos are sparkling. Barth is always creative and interesting with chops to spare. Smulyan comes in with the big reputation and doesn’t disappoint, charging through with the big tone and the fleet fingers. Patneaude’s is superb throughout, evoking elements of some of the great tenors along the lineage. On Stitt’s Eternal Triangle, he burns like the author himself would, something Brian keeps a bit hidden in some of his own stuff. don’t go to sleep on him tho.
No faking here. They go for it on these memorable tunes. The leader’s drums are a key, keeping up the rhythmic clouds for the soloists to walk on. Solid work. This band is doing some touring, so check em out. Not usually with Smulyan, but sometimes, including a date in Schenectady, NY, in the fall. This is a great disk for people who like their mainstream jazz served up with the joy and skill it was intended for.
Mentioned in a past blog (scroll down), is Patneaude’s All Around Us. I won’t repeat too much, except that he’s one of the gems of the region’s musicians. Never disappoints, and his disk are consistently outstanding. I raved about his writing in the last blog. His playing always a joy; thoughtful and purposeful as he negotiates his fine constructions. He’s also intense with a tone that is his own; strong and expressive.
The guys on this disk are solid as shit. They know each other, having been partners in crime for some time now. I notice bass player Mike Delprete’s strengths more and more every time I see him. Pianist David Caldwell-Mason is the newest Patneaude addition for me, and adds intrigue. The Brooklynite’s lines aren’t just grabbed from the jazz bag. He has his way and comes up with ideas that are different. Worth hearing more of.
These albums stand up to stuff on any level and they’re getting deserved notoriety. Good for those folks and here’s hoping there’s a lot more from them.