WBGO Radar

John Petrucelli: "The Way"

saxophonist john petrucelli

Tenor saxophonist John Petrucelli has found his own way through music. His new album, The Way, invites us to join him on this surprising ride.

“It follows the arc of everything I’ve done,” says Petrucelli. “There are singable melodies, but with growing nuance, counterpoint and complexity.”

Petrucelli’s path into jazz began in Trenton, where at age nine his dad took him to jam sessions at the Candlelight and Joe’s Mill Hill, where he met saxophonist Richie Cole.

Cole took him under his wing, and John’s musical imagination began to blossom. By twelve, he was playing at the Trenton Jazz Festival.

As an undergrad at the University of Virginia, Petrucelli played with trumpeter John D’earth. This led him to set aside his law school ambitions to spend a year in New Orleans, so he could give music a shot.

“I realized I was spending a LOT more time practicising and gigging than studying for my LSATs,” he recalls.

In New Orleans, he played with Delfeayo Marsalis and met pianist Victor Gould, who was at the Thelonious Monk Institute. Petrucelli then headed to Rutgers, where he got double degrees in music performance and jazz history, and hooked up with guitarist Peter Park and drummer Gusten Rudolph.

Gould, Park and Rudolph reunite with Petrucelli on “The Way,” and are joined by Alexander Claffy on bass and Victor Lewis as guest drummer on three tracks.

“There’s an implicit trust in the band,” says Petrucelli. “Everyone is so empathetic, and that makes a difference.”

At Rutgers, he discovered the long-flowing lines and rhythmic subtleties of saxophonist Warne Marsh, which refreshed his own approach to playing, as we hear on his songs such as his “Prism” and “Arrows of Longing.”

“There’s a beautiful, lyrical quality, even when there’s this intense level of rhythmic interest,” he says.

Petrucelli adds these elements of surprise on the album’s standards, Monk’s “Gallup’s Gallop” and the ballad  “I Hear A Rhapsody,” which he reimagines with a driving rhythmic base that shifts between groups of three, four and five beats.

“There’s a kind of rhythmic freedom – lines don’t need to resolve in typical places,” he says. “It was new approach for me, and really fresh.”

Fresh, indeed. The Way will be released Feb. 10.

   - Tim Wilkins, WBGO digital content producer

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