March 25, 2012
Sun Ra Sunday
Pat Patrick’s Baritone Retinue: Sound Advice (Saturn LP)
Pat Patrick had recently returned to the fold and in 1976, joined with Arkestra alum, Charles Davis, to form Pat Patrick’s Baritone Retinue for a few one-off gigs. One of these concerts was recorded and released on an LP entitled, Sound Advice, in 1980 (Saturn ESR 770) and it is one of the few non-Sun Ra albums ever issued by El Saturn Records (and, as it turns out, the last) (see Campbell & Trent pp.229-230). Curiously, Sound Advice is also one of the only Saturn albums ever released on cassette (Id.). It’s an odd grouping: eight (8!) baritone saxophones (with some doubling on alto and flute) accompanied by a rhythm section consisting of Hilton Ruiz on piano, John Hart on bass, Steve Solder on drums and Babadefmi Humphries on conga. Both Patrick and Davis contribute tunes and arrangements while sharing the solo spotlight on this mostly straight-ahead affair.
The album is bookended by two crudely edited takes of Benny Golson’s “Stablemates” sans solos, a curious way to open and close the record—especially given the ensemble’s rather severe intonation problems! Jimmy Heath’s “Funny Time” starts out as a bumptious rhumba but settles into swing changes for the solos. Patrick goes first with a gruff and soulful outing, marred only by a squeaky reed, while Davis is smoother but also maybe a bit too slick for my tastes. This pattern repeats for most of the album. Patrick’s “Uptightedness” boasts an evocative title but is merely a medium blues of little interest but Davis’s “Eastern Vibrations” is better: a snaky melody over mysterioso piano and bass, a bit of jazzy exotica with sweet and sour harmonies. The bridge moves into movie-music swells before medium swing for the solos with Davis up first with an effortless couple of choruses and Patrick taking over with more adventuresome fare, which gets a nice round of applause from the audience. A tasty piano solo from Ruiz then rounds things up for the reprise.
Antônio Carlos Jobim’s “Sabia” opens side two with a mellow samba rhythm, the melody arranged for baritones, altos and flutes. Patrick is in the lead, doing his best Harry Carney impersonation: big, wide vibrato and breathy, romantic articulations. Very nice. Next up is the most interesting track on the album: “East Of Uz” an early Sun Ra composition (c.1956) the score of which was deposited in the Library of Congress, but never recorded by Ra (as far as I know). It’s a Latin-inflected space groove with descending harmonies set against an oddly dissonant melody and the arrangement here is fairly intricate with loping counter-melodies orchestrated for baritone choir. Ruiz really shows his stuff with a sprightly solo in parallel octaves, which elicits some applause before Patrick and Davis take their turns at the mic. This is possibly one of the hundreds of tunes rehearsed by the Arkestra but never performed—too bad as it would have been nice to hear Sonny’s take on this weird little number. “The Waltz” is another composition by Davis and it’s just what it sounds like, a modal, three-four romp that dances in place while the soloists take flight. Then it’s another incomplete take of “Stablemates” to conclude the album.
Sound Advice is a pleasant enough listen and it’s always a pleasure to hear Pat Patrick taking the lead. But the indistinct recording job, sloppy ensembles and other technical problems prevent it from being everything it could have been. Soon after this recording, Patrick would abandon the baritone for the more easily deployed alto saxophone—a shame as he had a unique sound and melodic sensibility on the bigger instrument. Sound Advice would be Patrick’s only recording under his own name and is worth checking out for that reason alone.