- PHOTO BY JACOB WALSH
- Eastman School alum Blake Pattengale can play jazz guitar at weddings or be the hip-hop emcee at the club.
Pattengale has a small jazz ensemble called the Gray Quartet, which performs regularly on Tuesday nights at The Spirit Room. He plays private events with various iterations of jazz groups under the auspices of Gray Booking Agency. But he’s also a sideman in the local Biggie Smalls tribute band The Frank White Experience.
As exemplified on Redbeard Samurai’s debut full-length album “Second: Banished from Highstrung Falls,” the hip-hop emcee’s precise musical arrangements, dance-heavy beats, and confident lyrical flow are infused with plenty of braggadocio and sexual swagger.
“What I’ve kind of done through high school, college, and everything is just try out all these different musical hats and try out all these musical genres, and give myself license to do it,” Pattengale says.
When the 25-year-old musician was a high school student in Maine, he had a rock band. He then decided to pursue jazz guitar because he felt it would bring him closer to his goal of becoming a serious professional musician. Moving to Montreal to study jazz at Concordia College, Pattengale embraced the jazz scene there, regularly performing at weekly jam sessions.
After two years in Canada, Pattengale decided to take some time off from music for a year and move back home to Maine, where he was a substitute teacher. Eventually, he returned to music and transferred to the Eastman School.
At Eastman he met keyboardist Max Greenberg, who was the teacher’s assistant in Pattengale’s music theory class and would later become the guitarist’s closest musical collaborator — as a member of the Gray Quartet and as a prominent player in Redbeard Samurai.
Pattengale produced the Redbeard Samurai album himself, creating his own beats and scavenging software sounds. But he also leaned on the Eastman music community to help flesh out his arrangements.
“Going to Eastman was awesome for those resources,” Pattengale says, “especially in the way of knowing different instrumentalists, and all these instruments, and they can really play them. Before I went to Eastman, I really didn’t know any string players.”
“I had to hone in on these classical musicians who play stuff in a very nice way, in a very rich-sounding way,” he says. “And I’m like, ‘Make it sound worse. Just make it sound bad.’”
As Pattengale exhibits his dual identity as polished guitarist and suave but uninhibited rapper, it’s clear that he doesn’t want to be pinned down by any particular stylistic expectations that could inhibit his creative evolution.
“Doing the mix of all these things feels like I can still remain me without having to claim too much of the culture that I don’t necessarily advocate for or want to advocate for,” he says. “I like jazz; I don’t like the romanticizing of the depressed artist.”
In the music of Redbeard Samurai, Pattengale embraces a motto of “We could just have fun though,” emphasizing the need to loosen up, embracing individuality, and being positive about sexuality.
These sentiments are expertly synthesized on the song “Turn It Up” and its accompanying music video. Beginning with some impressive spittin’ from Redbeard, the music later evolves into a seamless blend of pop, jazz, soul, and funk, as an impromptu dance party breaks out and you the listener are encouraged to “do your freak thang.”
Elsewhere on “Second: Banished from Highstrung Falls,” tracks such as “Two Timing” get significantly raunchier, but if there was any confusion, the song’s video shows that Pattengale doesn’t take himself too seriously here. Redbeard Samurai is Pattengale embracing a persona, the embodiment of stereotypical egotism and sexual promiscuity.
It’s clear from how Pattengale presents himself and the music that he’s not intending to get more deeply entrenched in what we now view as backward thinking about the hetero male relationship to women or masculinity in general. But at the same time, the album adheres to the well-worn tropes of limitless swagger and self-centered, male-centric sexuality.
The emcee says that sometimes people are surprised when Redbeard Samurai the performer is very different from Blake Pattengale the person. “It’s this whole from-the-Romantic-period notion of Everything that I’m writing is innately some definitive reflection of me, and it’s not that I’m trying on a hat and wearing a genre,” he says.
At the same time, Pattengale acknowledges that while his songs often work well in a bar or club setting, they can also make people uneasy. “My goal isn’t to make people uncomfortable,” he says. “My goal is to let them relax and have a good time, and really enjoy themselves and feel empowered.”
With future projects, Pattengale plans to evolve musically. If the first Redbeard album was a crystallization of his interest in hip-hop, his forthcoming music may reflect his current passion: soul. “‘Second’ is pretty well down the pipeline, hip-hop,” he says. “I would like to still blend hip-hop as being my fundamental palette, but kind of bring in all these other genres, as the basis of either what I’m sampling or what’s influencing the music.”
Pattengale also plans to pursue collaborations with creative people in other cities — musicians, photographers, videographers, and others — through the use of a kind of mobile studio that would enable artistic connections to be made. “The vibe is just to create and travel and work with people,” he says.
For more on the music of Blake Pattengale, visit redbeardsamurai.com.
Daniel J. Kushner is CITY’s music editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.