The sophomore effort from saxophonist John Petrucelli is a fresh and timely release of original compositions that were recorded in 2017 at the New Hazlett Theatre in Pittsburgh. The forthcoming album, titled Presence, pairs a jazz quintet with a string quartet as they perform John's majestic ten-movement suite. The album also features a guest appearance from Melvin Butler of Brian Blade's Fellowship Band. From the outset, John poses the question "Where are we going, what are we doing? The easiest of questions, with a peculiar answer; that forces conspire to constrain and restrain. To bend us, at times unyielding to desires incomprehensible." It's an expression worth pondering as Presence unfolds.
Petrucelli isn't just a performer/composer, but a deep-thinker as well. He holds degrees in Philosophy, Jazz Studies, Jazz History & Research, and a recently finished Ph.D. with dissertation work on the Wayne Shorter Quartet. His performing credits include work with Geri Allen, Delfeayo Marsalis, Paquito D'Rivera, and Terence Blanchard. He has also been a force on the college jazz circuit, performing with big bands at Loyola University, University of Virginia, University of Pittsburgh, and Rutgers University. As an educator, he has served as an Artist-in-Residence at the University of Virginia and was recently appointed the Director of Jazz Studies at Northeastern State University in Oklahoma. Despite his incredible performing capacity and résumé, Petrucelli's gifts have largely flown under the radar. Presence has the potential to change that.
The album begins with a saxophone prelude that states the motivic mission of Presence. The string quartet's introduction to "Intentions" is followed in antiphony by the quintet. Then, the entire ensemble joins together supporting the soaring saxophone/guitar melodies. Petrucelli's solo spins a web of chromaticism around his declarative melodies. Peter Park follows with an exceptional solo displaying audible influences that range from Jim Hall to Kurt Rosenwinkel.
The elements that shine through most in Presence is Petrucelli's compositional abilities and commitment to integrity in performance. "Field of Heaven" presents serene, pastoral textures that give way to a playful rhythmic-romp before returning home to the pasture. In "Summon the Spirit," harmonic contours from the strings and piano support floating melodies. Petrucelli's solo unfolds like a story. The tale gains complexity and energy with each passing bar, eventually leading to bellicose cries before resolving into calm. Lines become balanced, indirect melodies before handing the baton off to the piano.
John Petrucelli's Presence moves him closer to the jazz pantheon.
Prelude, Intentions, Field of Heaven, Bridge Not An End, Garden of Angels, Sly, Summon The Spirit, For One To Know, Scallop Shell of Quiet, Mercury Crossing.
John Petrucelli: tenor saxophone; Melvin Butler: guest tenor saxophone; Melissa Hernandez: violin; Ashley Freeburn: violin; Olga Taimonov: viola; Katya Janpoladyan: cello; Peter Park: guitar; Brett Williams: piano; Paul Thompson: bass; Gusten Rudolph: drums.