Call it what? Jazz-op? Jazzical? Silly names aside, histories of jazz and classical music are littered with failed attempts. Saxophonist John Petrucelli, an instructor at Carnegie Mellon University and student of jazz history, astronomy and philosophy, takes the lessons in and presents us with Presence. This ambitious and rewarding album successfully melds an up-for-it jazz quintet and expressive, equally ready-for-anything string quartet to produce an arching narrative of human potential and possibilities. Add in the daring fact that it's all recorded live, and you've got yourself a most worthy listen.
The sweeping, aspirational double CD begins quietly with "Prelude," a gentle sax solo that deceptively sets the stage for "Intentions," a twisting series of time and melody shifts featuring abundant harmonic string layers that inspire Petrucelli and the quintet to raucous swing. A bit of tabla-infused electronica follows before "Field of Heaven" moves the narrative forward with a surge of cascading motifs. Pianist Brett Williams enriches many of these passages with crisp, buoyant fluency. Dedicated to his mentor, late pianist Geri Allen, the tune's near ten-minute length may sound episodic at times, but it serves to set the stage for the suite-within-a-suite, "Bridge, Not An End," and it's follow-up, "Garden of Angels." Both compositions teem with uplifting, near-anthemic melodies and Peter Park's impossibly graceful guitar.
Petrucelli's tone may not be instantly distinguishable from any number of fine sax players, but his chops and compositional insights are many and grandly on display during the 82 minutes of Presence. Historically, many jazz/classical hybrids have bent mostly to one music or the other. Not so here and that is no small feat.
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.