"An airplane," tenor saxophonist Alisha Pattillo says dryly when I ask her what brought her all the way from Australia, the country where she was born, to Houston. Well, ask a stupid question . . .
Of course if you stop a second and think about it, it makes total sense that a tenor saxophonist, especially one as steeped in rock, R&B, soul, blues, as well as jazz, as Pattillo, would be drawn to Texas, home to the big-toned saxophone sound made famous by Lone Star state players like Don Wilkerson, David "Fathead" Newman, and Leroy "Hog" Cooper (all of whom played in Ray Charles' band), as well as several saxophonists under the leadership of Houston born trumpeter and band leader Milt Larkin.
"I like tunes I can turn into something groovy, you know?" Pattillo says.
In Texas, jazz and the blues have always enjoyed a healthy, symbiotic relationship, with rock and roll, zydeco, mariachi, and even Eastern European polka music seeping into the mix to create a rhythmically compelling, very distinctive music that in performance is as much about the heart as it is the head.
"I like tunes I can turn into something groovy, you know?" says Pattillo when asked about what compels her to learn and add a tune to her and her band's repertoire.
Pattillo's brand new CD Along For The Ride is definitely a groove-centric program that includes slamming versions of soul jazz classics by Eddie Harris and Horace Silver, a funked up version of Wayne Shorter's "Black Nile," a moment of smooth jazz repose with her take on The Crusaders' track "My Lady," and even a balls to the wall version of "Eleanor Rigby" by an obscure British band called the Beatles.
Pattillo and her band Alisha's Quartet, which includes Paul Chester on guitar, Richard Cholakian on drums, and David Craig on bass, perform this Saturday at Capone's on Westheimer to celebrate the release of the new CD.
Since she arrived in Houston on a one-year tourist visa back in 2007, the city has been good to Patillo, both personally and musically.
"(Brisbane) wasn't a really rich jazz environment," she says. "It wasn't really until I moved to (Houston) that I got the chance to go to jazz jams . . . I got to study with some teachers here, and that definitely helped me out and got me sounding more like a player. When I came out of college I wasn't as strong as I am now, for sure, just because the environment wasn't there."
(Check out Alisha's Quartet playing the Eddie Harris classic "Freedom Jazz Dance" from Alisha Pattillo's new CD Along For The Ride)
Pattillo, whose parents are both in the oil industry, grew up in Singapore. She remembers being "mesmerized" by the sight and sound of the tenor saxophone after hearing one played by the son of a family friend. Her parents tried to placate her with a recorder, then a clarinet, before relenting and letting her begin private saxophone lessons at the age of 11.
What was her first saxophone teacher's name? Miles, of course!
By the time she was a teenager, Pattillo was playing in professional bands in Singapore's nightclubs and bars. Around the same time, Miles introduced Pattillo to jazz, and although she was a fan of bands like Tower of Power and Liquid Soul, she admits it took awhile before she came to appreciate the early innovators of jazz music.
"In college I started listening to contemporary players like Joshua Redman and Chris Potter," Pattillo says. "I was kind of late checking out Charlie Parker, Lester Young . . . that music didn't appeal to me until I was in my early twenties."
Before relocating once again to Brisbane to get her bachelor's at the Queensland Conservatorium of Music, Pattillo cut her teeth playing in a blues and Top 40 band in Vietnam. Not surprisingly, upon arriving in Houston in 2007, she found work playing in blues and Top 40 bands "almost instantly."
I'll go out on a limb and say you can hear a very Texan, or at least Southern (South Asian?) sensibility in Pattillo's jazz playing, which embraces elements of jump blues, rhythm and blues, and (gasp!) rock 'n' roll. Her music, while sophisticated, hits you with a high degree of energy right from the "one" and doesn't let you go.
"I'm very heavily influenced by saxophone players," Pattillo says. "So most of the tunes that are on Along For The Ride are songs that I've heard other guys play and l liked. Some of the stuff that we play we keep close to the recordings I've heard."
What about "Eleanor Rigby"?
"We rocked a little on that one," Pattillo laughs. "That song has been covered a lot by jazz musicians. I know that The Crusaders have done it. I think Wes Montgomery did a version of it. One of the influences that made me wanna do it like that is a band called Soulive. I think (our version) is a bit more on the rock feel, while theirs is more funk."
Pattillo highly praises her Alisha's Quartet band mates, along with guests keyboardist Robert Markoff and bassist Keith Vivens, who all helped her knock out Along For The Ride's nine tracks in one breathless six-hour recording session. The CD will be available for purchase on the day of the CD release party. If you haven't heard Pattillo live, then get thee to Capone's where she and her band shall kick out the jams and then some.
After living in eight different cities in five different countries, perhaps Pattillo has found her musical home?
Alisha's Quartet CD release party is 6 to 8 p.m. Saturday at Capone's.