Pat Battstone takes unusual turns on “The Last Taxi”

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Pianist Pat Battstone has a new recording: “The Last Taxi: In Transit.” Released Sept. 2018, the album boasts musical phrasing that is both experimental and traditional. The premise of the album is almost mythological- – the taxi will take you home, “yet you understand that home is an endless journey. What was your world is now seen through the window as a dream that is passing, an obscure and blurred image.” Put another way, Battstone uses a quote from Henry Miller: “One’s Destination is never a place, but a new way of looking at things.”

The Miller quote is apt for describing what happens on “The Last Taxi.” Audiences’ expectations are shaken, but the soundscape is not constituted of unusual instruments. But their arrangement and manipulation help to create the blurred image, the new way of looking at things.

About Pat Battstone

In addition to being a pianist, Battstone works as a rocket scientist at Draper Labs. But before he had a set professional path, he was a teenager playing a variety of popular music genres. By age 14 he was a professional. Before his teens were over, Battstone had received lessons from Stan Kenton and Gary Burton. He had also been mentored by Oscar Treadwell. His performance resume included playing with James Brown’s sidemen and members of the musical “Hair.”

Battstone attended Berklee College of Music in 1973. He continued to play and study throughout the 1970s. In 1986, Battstone returned to jazz. In the years since, he has released six CDs. All of which have earned excellent reviews and charted in the teens on the CMJ jazz charts. The songs have remained on their respective charts for weeks at a time.

“As the City Awakens” by Pat Battstone

The flutes open the song, and the sound is like that of a call to meditation, or the fluttering wings of birds. The flute line is halting– it puffs, stalls out, restarts and becomes no more than a whisper, only to resume its breathy, determined call. As other instruments join in, tension grows. At the two-and-a-half minutes or more mark, one of the singers intones in syllables. A bass rumbles somewhat sporadically, and a vibraphone offers a crystalline accent. A second singer enters the instrumentation. The sounds rise into cacophony and audiences are free to see what their minds create in relation to the sound. What kind of city is this? Audiences might imagine that the growing chorus of sounds represents the kind of city that awakens slowly and grows more noisy by the time the almost official rush hour begins.

At any rate, the piano shows up late, toward the end, as one voice is scatting, the other offering a mournful tone and drums and bass thunder gently. It is not a song that can be easily understood, and that perhaps isn’t the point. It is artful, though. And it does gain audiences’ attention. This is the song that opens the album. Audiences keep listening to see where Battstone and his ensemble will take them next.

“Harbor Lights” by Pat Battstone

The fourth song on the album is a somber piece, yet the piano sounds light less than a minute in. The flute begins to contrast with it, and the bass ushers in its resonance. The clarinet comes in just before the singers. Again, audiences are treated to sounds that pile on, but do not make a mess. The parts are distinct and listeners can hear how the instrumentation plays up the theme of each song. The singers’ sustained notes sound almost aggrieved against the instrumentation. The song gets audiences attention and there is nothing to do but listen to the rest of the album.

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Dodie Miller-Gould is a native of Fort Wayne, Indiana who lives in New York City where she studies creative nonfiction at Columbia University. She has BA and MA degrees in English from Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne, and an MFA in Fiction from Minnesota State University, Mankato. Her research interests include popular music and culture, 1920s jazz, and blues, confessional poetry, and the rhetoric of fiction. She has presented at numerous conferences in rhetoric and composition, and creative writing. Her creative works have appeared in Tenth Muse, Apostrophe, The Flying Island, Scavenger's Newsletter and elsewhere. She has won university-based awards for creative work and literary criticism.

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