For his 2009 release Riverview, Brian Patneaude was essentially backed by a pickup group… that is, if you can call any unit featuring uber-guitarist Mike Moreno a "pickup group." Although All Around Us only has Patneaude's name on the masthead, this is the first recorded sighting of his everyday quartet since the BPQ's 2007 release As We Know It. But don't worry, this isn't a retrenchment; if anything, it's conclusive proof that Patneaude can maintain his roots while growing in new directions, both as a player and a composer.
Anyone familiar with Patneaude's music will immediately see elements from past pieces in the evocative opener "Lake Timeless." With David Caldwell-Mason's piano replacing George Muscatello's guitar as second soloist and primary foil, "Timeless" seems to be an even stronger nod towards Patneaude's primary muse, the late tenorman Michael Brecker. But then you see the atypical shading Caldwell-Mason uses in his elegant solo, and you have to agree that something new has been added. Patneaude and Caldwell-Mason's trade-off on the ride-out has some serious snap to it, and the contrast between piano and tenor sax allows us to see a snarl in Patneaude's attack we might not have heard when placed next to Muscatello's steel.
That snarl isn't a one-time thing, either: It's right up front in Patneaude's solo on the Latin-flavored "Too Vast for Malice," and Caldwell-Mason's discordant comping adds some background punch; that punch gets bigger in Caldwell-Mason's follow-up solo, which ripples with authoritative muscle. On a macro level, there are sharp edges to almost every piece, either in overall approach or in off-kilter moments that raise an eyebrow as often as they prompt a smile. You see it in the frenetic attack on "Double Trio" (a piece inspired by Joshua Redman's incendiary band of the same configuration) and in the stuttering groove of the closer "Blucocele." For insight on the latter piece's unique title, check out Patneaude's liner notes, where you see why his most powerful release to date is also his most personal.
Although bassist Mike DelPrete's been away from the BPQ for some time, he slips back into the band like he'd just stepped out for a breath of air. His solos on "Blucocele" and "Malice" hold the same depth and lyricism that gave Patneaude both a foundation and an additional solo voice to play off of. Danny Whelchel's never been away, and that's a joy for anyone who loves to hear every inch of the drums get played, and played with a brilliant sense of nuance usually associated with natural born killers like Eric Harland and Kendrick Scott. Patneaude wrote the pulsing "Orb" with Whelchel in mind, and every aspect of Whelchel's epic range is on display as he helps push the piece farther and farther out on the edge.
Patneaude and Whelchel play a riveting game of catch towards the end of Wayne Shorter's "Juju," one of two standards on All Around Us -- the other being a bubbling take on Bronislaw Kaper's "Invitation" that Patneaude dedicates to the late guitarist Jack Fragomeni. Other people's music is a recent element in Patneaude's own recordings, although he handles genre classics with practiced ease when playing with Michael Benedict's Bopitude. The fact that Patneaude is now willing to place established material next to his own compositions shows a comfort zone that can be measured in miles, not meters. Brian Patneaude's always been a great player, but the levels of revelation in All Around Us shows he's becoming a great artist. And that's a beautiful thing.