Ben Patterson

Push the Limits



MUSIC REVIEW BY Editor, Phil's Picks


The year that was 2020 was a pivotal period for trombonist and jazz artist Ben Patterson. That is because he saw so much change in his own career throughout the year. After more than two decades as a member of the United States Air Force Band's Airmen of Note (as well as its lead trombonist and musical director), Patterson stepped down from the positions and left the organization. Then in March, the COVID-19 pandemic shut everything down. That ended any plans he had for rest and recreation in the form of travel. Rather than let himself get down, Patterson instead made lemonade (so to speak) and crafted a number of songs, which ended up becoming the body of his new solo record, Push The Limits. Those songs were recorded in September alongside Patterson's fellow musicians Shawn Purcell (guitar), Chris Ziemba (keyboards, guitar), Paul Henry (bass), Todd Harrison (drums, percussion), and Dani Cortaza (guitar). Released March 19 through Origin Records, the 10-song record is an aptly titled presentation. That is because the arrangements in question really do push the limits. They will be discussed shortly. While the musical content featured throughout the album makes for plenty of engagement and entertainment, the record's presentation does have one misstep, that being the lack of any background information about the songs in the liner notes. This will be discussed a little later. The record's production rounds out its most important elements and will be discussed later, too. Each item noted is important in its own way to the whole of the album's presentation. All things considered, they make the album an overall presentation that any jazz fan will enjoy.

Ben Patterson's new album, Push The Limits is a presentation that will easily appeal to most jazz audiences. That is due in part to the musical arrangements featured throughout the 74-minute record. The arrangements take listeners in a wide range of directions from start to end. The whole thing opens in rather energetic fashion in its title track. The song presents listeners with a sort of bebop approach in the early portion of its 10 minute-plus run time. As the song progresses though, the addition of the full-on improve approach from the guitar (or is it keyboards? They sound so similar that it is difficult to tell) takes the arrangement in a more free jazz style approach. The two styles are polar opposites, yet somehow work so well together here. The eventual blending of the two styles late in the song makes for even more engagement and entertainment. By the time the song is over, audiences will not have even realized they sat through more than 10 minutes of music in this case.

'Hope,' which serves as the album's midpoint, is completely different from 'Push The Limits' in terms of its style and sound. In this case, audiences get something more along the lines of a cool jazz type work. It is such a simple, relaxed work, yet is just as certain to fully engage and entertain listeners. Patterson takes the lead here with his slow, gentle performance on the trombone. The relaxed feel and sound exhibited by his performance and Harison's even more subtle backing does well to help illustrate what the group must have been trying to translate here. The positive mindset that it establishes really does translate what one thinks and feels in getting that sense of hope in difficult times. It is that simple, gentle clarity of mind. The group in whole achieves its goal while also showing even more the diversity in the album's musical content.

'Road Trip,' the album's penultimate entry, is yet another example of the diversity exhibited throughout the record. This time out, Patterson and company have opted for a more Afro-Latin-tinged sound from the 1960s and 70s. That vintage sound is especially exhibited through Ziemba's performance on the keyboard. The sound and style that Ziemba presents in his solo lends itself easily to comparisons to works from the late, great composer Vince Guaraldi. The guitar work does just as much to conjure those thoughts and sounds of so much vintage lounge style jazz. That lounge style and sound, opposite the arrangement's more Afro-Latin approach and sound makes for quite the interesting dichotomy. That is meant in the most positive fashion possible. The whole shows in its own way, the diversity exhibited throughout this record from song to song and even within songs. When this composition and the others examined here are considered along with the rest of the album's songs, the whole leaves no doubt as to the importance of that musical content. For all of the engagement and entertainment that the record's musical diversity ensures, the record is not perfect. Its lack of any real background on the songs in the liner notes detracts at least somewhat from the album's presentation.

The liner notes featured with Patterson's new album lack any real background on the record's songs' inspirations. The only song that gets any real attention is its title track. Patterson explains in this case that the song is a reflection of his determination to get past his occasional writer's block, in terms of composing songs. He points out that when he hits those walls, he becomes determined to "push the limits," thus the song's title and energy. Other than this explanation, there really is nothing in the way of that background information. It is not enough to make the album a failure by any means, but being that instrumental jazz is so different from vocal jazz and from mainstream music, it helps to have that background information so as to help increase understanding of and appreciation for the arrangements. Again, the general lack of any real background is not enough to doom the album. It just would have been nice to have had that added information and thus, understanding and appreciation for the album in whole. Keeping this in mind, there is still one more item to note here, in terms of the album's positives. That item is the album's production.

As has already been noted, the musical content featured throughout this album is diverse. It changes from song to song and even within the course of the songs themselves. That means that a lot of time and attention had to go into balancing dynamics, instruments' presence, and even more minute items. Whether in a slower moment, such as that in 'Easter Waltz' and 'Hope' or in a more active tune, such as 'Fear is the Mindkiller' or even something that exhibits reserved and energetic feelings all in one - such as in 'Almost There' - every composition required its own share of attention. The work to balance all of the noted elements paid off, as each song offers the utmost impact regardless of the intended result of the performers' work. That is a tribute to the work put in behind the glass just as much as in front of the boards. Keeping that in mind, the production pays off just as much as the songs themselves to make this record mostly a successful presentation that most jazz fans will enjoy.

Ben Patterson's new album, Push The Limits is an aptly titled presentation that lives up to its title. That is proven in part through its featured arrangements. The arrangements are so diverse within themselves and from one to the next. They push the limits of what audiences expect from jazz records. While the record's musical diversity does plenty to make the record appealing, the lack of any real background information on the songs undeniably detracts from the record's appeal. It does not make the album a failure, but certainly would have enhanced the listening experience had it been there. Moving on from there, the record's production rounds out its most important elements. That is because the production was responsible for assembling and balancing all of the performances with each song, bringing out the best of each work. That painstaking effort paid off, too. Whether in the more subtle, laid back moments or the more energetic moments, or even moments that have both moods within themselves, the utmost attention was paid to every minute detail. The result is that the album proves appealing just as much for its sound as for its content. Each item noted here is important in its own way to the whole of the album. All things considered, the album proves itself to be a presentation that most jazz fans will find engaging and entertaining. Push the Limits is available now through Origin Records.





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