Pat Battstone Sextet surprises, provokes thought on “Elements”

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Making music might not be rocket science, but if it were, he would still be able to figure it out. That’s because when he isn’t making music, the Ohio native is literally working as a rocket scientist. For many that would be enough. But Battstone has a performance history steeped in rock ‘n’ roll. From age14 on, Battstone has played blues, r&b and rock ‘n’ roll professionally. He has played with James Brown’s firemen, as well as members of the musical “Hair.”

Academically Battstone prepared for a career in music by attending Berklee College of Music. He returned to jazz in 1986, and studied with Joanne Brackeen until 1992.

Battstone became skilled in musical improvisation. He is known for his abilities in jazz, groove, and r&b. He has recorded five CDs before his latest. All of Battstone’s previous releases were well-received critically and managed to reach in the teens on jazz charts.

With such a history it would seem that Battstone would be more at home with popular music.  The experimental bent of his latest album, “Elements” sounds nothing like audiences’ expectations .On “Elements,” Battstone and his ensemble members take risks and approach unexpected topics. Of late, Battstone has been working with Italian musicians.

The work on “Elements” is spontaneous. Battstone describes the music as a conversation. The conversation is fluid – – not everyone participates at the same time, or even in every conversation. One of the conversations is about the Titanic. The track “Bankruptcy Agreement,” finds the discussion centering around the poorly provided for lifeboats and other elements of the tragedy.

“Bankruptcy Agreement” by Pat Battstone Sextet

Unlike what its title suggests, the track isn’t legal exploration. Instead, it sounds like irony. Vocalist Marialuisa Capurso speaks, providing statistics about the ill-fated ship’s lifeboats and other aspects. As she talks, musical elements creep in, punctuation or responding to the information provided by the vocalist. As Capurso relays facts, she begins to almost laugh at the helpless ridiculousness of it all. The percussion gives a rim shot at times. The gravity of the Titanic’s situation as it had no means to rescue all passengers is impressed on audiences .

But, since this is a conversation, sometimes the vocalist is drowned out by the excited playing of the musicians, and audiences might find themselves struggling to hear – – just like a conversation with a group of people.

The Pat Battstone Sextet challenges what listeners understand of music. The song “Bankruptcy Agreement” might not showcase the bandleader’s groove-making ability, but it provokes thought, and that is a laudable accomplishment.

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