Sometimes, you hear about some jazz project that sounds cool and then just doesn’t come through. (Anyone catch my cap-job on Dom Minasi?) Other times, though, someone nails it. Gianluca Petrella is a young Italian trombone player who is well-versed in electronica and rock as well as jazz; he’s paid his dues with Italy’s top jazzman, Enrico Rava, but he also does DJ sets on the side. This project is done with Petrella’s own quartet, which includes Francesco Bearzatti on tenor and clarinet, Paolina dalla Porta on bass, and Fabio Accardi on drums. (Notice the lack of his mentor, Rava. That’s important.) It is a great jazz disc, if jazz is what it is, which it is maybe most of the time. But when music is this on-point, genre definitions just kind of melt away.
We start with a work of tomb-banditry. Petrella has a very unusual way of doing Thelonious Monk’s “Trinkle, Tinkle”—he has his quartet play it fairly straight, but then takes it and remixes it so that it has some very “out” moments: weird squeals, one-second freakouts, and ping-ponging blast effects. On top of this, he decides he cannot do a Monk tune without a piano, so he samples Monk doing a couple plink-plonking chords and adds them whenever and wherever he wants. It’s bizarre, it’s effective, it’s the new style.
Petrella does a great job of mixing things up. Sometimes, the band just burns it up in a post-bop way (“Mr. Wolf”), showing guts and technique and respect for guys like J.J. Johnson. He also pays tribute to Ornette Coleman (“Sacred Whale” is like a master’s thesis on early Ornette, especially The Shape of Jazz to Come) and Sun Ra (in “A Relaxing Place on Venus”, the band actually chants, “Brother Ra / And his band / From outer space / Will entertain you now!”). And the two Duke Ellington pieces that come in the middle of the record are interesting glosses on our greatest American composer, and each takes its own surprising path. (NO SPOILERS.)
But it is when Petrella reaches highest that he captures most. “The Middleman” is foxy two-step jungle with slidey chord voicings from Petrella and Bearzatti; it leads into the molasses-thick minimalist reggae-funk of “Lazy Moon”. There hasn’t been a lot of sexy jazz lately, everyone too much into their own heads to really think about the more important parts of the body, so this is a welcome development. “Stockholm 64” is a great showcase for dalla Porta, who bows his double bass like a cello to produce notes of beauty against a dark and ambient and regal setting. And I love the way “There Comes a Time” seems to combine soul-jazz with an electro-funk beat that sounds very Kraftwerkian in origin. (There are also echoes of my favorite modern trombonist, Josh Roseman, in here somewhere, which is a plus.)
Although Petrella needs to sing with his own voice a bit more, Indigo 4 is fresh! and bold! This record is the sound of today, and it bodes very well for the future.