Human​/​Alien

by Ryan Pate

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about

Guitarist-composer Ryan Pate has crafted a beguiling debut with Human/Alien (BFG Records), an album of forward-minded jazz where the earthy and otherworldly mingle and meld. To bring his music alive, Pate convened a band of kindred-spirit players whom he got to know on the Brooklyn session scene: pianist Dov Manski, bassist Noah Garabedian and drummer Devin Gray. The quartet recorded at Tedesco Studios in New Jersey, with mixing then done in Brooklyn by rising-star guitarist Ryan Ferreira. With Human/Alien, Pate aimed to create “a world in sound – music that’s cinematic, which is something a lot of my favorite records share,” he says. “The title, Human/Alien, reflects a duality I’ve always been drawn to, things that are both human and strange – the earthy, human essence being an emphasis on melody, and the alien being an ethereal, atmospheric quality.”
Born in New York, raised in South Florida and now based in San Francisco after a stint in Brooklyn, the 33-year-old Pate is a graduate of the Manhattan School of Music, where he learned from such masters as Dave Liebman and where he met drummer Devin Gray. Pate and Gray hooked up with pianist Dov Manski and bassist Noah Garabedian, and the quartet felt like a band that had been together for years. “What I love about these guys as players is that they always sound like themselves – they’re never ones to play clichés – and yet they always have your back creatively,” Pate says. “Some of my favorite moments on the record are Dov’s piano solos, like the incredible ones he plays in ‘For E.S.’ and ‘Pen & Sword.’ He has such a sense of melodic flow and adventure in his improvising. Devin is a really sensitive player, attuned to timbre and how to color a song with the drums. And Noah has a great sound and sense of time, and he’s never afraid to add his ideas into the conversation. Most important, they’re all comfortable going into the unknown.”

Pate’s guitar sound is warm, liquid, enveloping. “True melody” is the goal in his improvisations, avoiding patterns. “I’ve always been influenced by pure melodic improvisers, like Sonny Rollins, Lee Konitz, Keith Jarrett – who have an edge to what they do while still being incredibly tuneful,” he says. “Even pieces that are harmonically complex can still have a singable melody.” Human/Alien launches with “Simple Song #3,” a piece with the sonic dramaturgy of a rock song, though laced with a jazzy bridge. It’s from a series of pieces that Pate wrote “after my years at the Manhattan School of Music and being burned out on this harmonically dense, tricky, virtuoso way of thinking,” he explains. “So I wanted to create some simple, tuneful things, and #3 turned out as my favorite.”

There’s an overt rock reference with “For E.S.,” an homage to the late singer-songwriter Elliott Smith. “I was listening a lot to his records and thinking about what a tragic figure he was,” Pate says. “The beauty of his music is that it’s honest to the point of vulnerability – and he channeled that through these pure, heartbreaking melodies.” Other highlights among the eight spacious tracks of Human/Alien include “Growth Cycles,” with its haunting solo piano intro and Pate’s silvery guitar song eventually floating on top. Then there are the intricate grooves, off-kilter atmospherics and tunefully ruminative byways of the 12-minute long “To See One Through,” like Aja-era Steely Dan gone through a psychedelic looking glass.

Pate has premiered original compositions for septet at the Montreux Jazz Festival, Jazz à Vienne and Umbria Jazz, along with composing and arranging for jazz big band, chamber groups, theatrical companies and film/television. The range of sound on Human/Alien reflects Pate’s love of a wide world of music, from the orchestral soundscapes of Messiaen and blend of the sophisticated and primal in Bartók to the post-Sgt. Pepper’s Beatles and on to Radiohead and Björk. His jazz-guitar loves began with Pat Metheny’s trio debut, Bright Size Life, and he worked back to Grant Green, Wes Montgomery and Charlie Christian. “Later, I really got into John Scofield and Kurt Rosenwinkel,” he says, “although it was their compositional sense as much as their guitar playing that drew me.”

Another highlight on Human/Alien is “Circulation Adjustment Machine,” which fully encapsulates Pate’s conceptual duality of melody and atmosphere. This track features “free improvisation overdubbed on top of the tune – like another world of color and texture that has an evolving relationship with the composition itself,” Pate explains. “The melody emerges from these ethereal textures, which float in and out through the rest of the piece. Again, melody has always been the thing that sticks with me as a listener, and that is ultimately my goal to deliver as a composer and an improviser – the sort of musical experience that stays with you.”

credits

released 06 May 2014

Ryan Pate - Guitar and Compositions
Dov Manski - Piano
Noah Garabedian - Bass
Devin Gray - Drums

Mixed by Ryan Ferreira and Ryan Pate
Mastered by John Rosenberg
Recorded at Tedesco Studios Apr 2012
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