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Gianluca Petrella: Italian Trombonist Makes Startlingly Fresh Debut On Blue Note Records

United States
Indigo4, Petrella’s Eccentric Yet Compelling Blend Of Traditional Jazz, Electronica & Avant-Garde, To Be Released Feb. 21

December 1, 2005 — On February 21, 2006, Blue Note will launch Indigo4, the startlingly fresh debut U.S. release from innovative Italian trombonist and composer Gianluca Petrella. Along with his countrymen Francesco Bearzatti on tenor saxophone and clarinet, bassist Dalla Porta, and drummer Fabio Accardi, the 30-year-old Petrella presents his eccentric yet compelling world of music where traditional jazz meets electronica and the avant-garde.

Despite Indigo4 being his first for Blue Note, Petrella’s list of collaborations both live as well as on record is truly impressive. A short list would include an array of well-known international players such as Greg Osby, Enrico Rava, Steve Swallow, Carla Bley, Steve Coleman and Lester Bowie. He has toured extensively throughout Europe and Canada as a leader, and the United States as a member of Rava’s band. Down Beat’s Critics have already caught on, placing him on the shortlist of this year’s Rising Star category in their annual Critics Poll.

For the new listener it might help to know something of Petrella’s musical influences. “I always appreciated the vanguards in our musical world,” he says, “especially the American one at the end of the ’60s, and for a lot of the ’70s. Important influences include Ornette Coleman, the Sun Ra visionary world, the trombone played in an unconventional way like with Roswell Rudd, the improvised European music, and the more radical and catchy electronics that involve acoustic instruments, too.”

It becomes immediately clear that Petrella is an utterly original thinker from the very first sounds on Indigo4, a version of Thelonious Monk’s “Trinkle, Tinkle” that turns expectation on its head. The track is built upon the quartet’s real-time performance of the Monk standard, taken at its typical medium tempo with trombone and tenor saxophone stating the theme in bits and pieces before proceeding into simultaneous improvisation as the drummer’s swing beat gradually morphs into a drum ’n’ bass beat. However, what makes this performance remarkably unique is that throughout Petrella cuts it up with electronica using computer-altered samples of Monk’s own recordings.

“It has been very involving to enter Monk’s musical word,” Petrella notes. “Among rhythmic repetitions and various eccentricities through the computer, the effects on ‘Trinkle, Tinkle’ are a result of a mix of acoustic and electronic sounds, old and new sounds, that come from my personal record collection. We realized the pre-production phase of this track in my studio. Looking for Monk’s samples, cutting them, using and modifying them, my intention was to succeed in creating a sound that could be as close as possible to the sound of one of the musicians that I absolutely adore.”

“The Middleman,” the first of seven Petrella originals, pulses with trip-hop energy as Petrella, utilizing live effects, floats above Accardi’s relentless beat before segueing into “Lazy Moon,” where we find Bearzatti and a muted Petrella blowing over a laidback, bluesy feel. A suite-like feel continues as bassist Dalla Porta and Accardi dart into the frenetic free swing of Petrella’s “Mr. Wolf,” engaging the trombonist’s solo explorations before coming to a repetitive ascending theme that ends abruptly and is still echoing when the rubato waves of Petrella’s “Sacred Whale” begin.

Two Duke Ellington classics follow and find Petrella blurring the line between reverence and irreverence. He treats the ballad “I Got It Bad,” a duet performance with bassist Dalla Porta, with a whimsical humor, and the theme of “Mood Indigo” emerges from pointillistic noises, kicked into gear when Accardi again launches into another driving drum ‘n’ bass beat.

“Two In A Hole,” a sparse piece of electronic music that interacts quietly with live sounds from a bowed bass, serves as a prelude to the funkiest workout on the record, “There Comes A Time,” an obscure song written by the great jazz drummer Tony Williams circa 1970 for his fusion era band Lifetime, which Petrella’s quartet pushes to new heights.

Three more Petrella originals make up the remainder of the record, the grooving “Stockholm 64,” “l.s.t.r.” which begins with Dalla Porta’s beautiful arco bass musings over rattling percussion (reminiscent of Petrella mentor Lester Bowie’s band The Art Ensemble of Chicago) before pushing into tempo with a fiery Bearzatti solo effort, and a fitting tribute to spacey jazz hero Sun Ra on “A Relaxing Place On Venus.”

By album’s end, Indigo4 becomes anything but categorizable, as Petrella’s band manages to run the gamut of permissible (and impermissible) styles, past, present, and future. Somehow, it all fits together.

Born in Bari, Italy, in 1975, Petrella went on to get a degree in music with honors from his local music academy in 1994. “I started to play trombone when I was only 10 years old,” he says. “Sometime later, the wish of understanding the trombone’s sound, the curiosity, encouraged me to go and search in my father’s discography looking for trombonists. Trombonists were ‘the big sound of jazz,’ and my approach to Afro-American music became unavoidable.”

Petrella went on to work with the acclaimed American alto saxophonist (and longtime Blue Note artist) Greg Osby, and P.A.T. + Osby (Right Tempo) became Petrella’s first release under his own name. In 1995, Petrella joined the OFP Orchestra, directed by Carla Bley, Steve Coleman, and Bruno Tommaso, and by 1998, Petrella had begun appearing with trumpeter Enrico Rava, with whom he still performs regularly. It was with Rava’s band that Petrella first came to the U.S., performing at New York City’s Town Hall in 2001 (the same year that Petrella was awarded the prestigious Django d’Or award for Best Talent. Petrella will return to New York with Rava March 30-31, 2006 for performances at Birdland.

GIANLUCA PETRELLA, INDIGO4, Blue Note 47665, February 21, 2006
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