Saxophonist Jordan Pettay’s musical background draws equally on jazz and contemporary gospel. Her debut album First Fruit – streaming at her music page – blends original, warmly melodic original jazz tunes with explorations of classic gospel themes. Pettay’s alto work often has a soprano sound, as she tends to favor the upper registers, but with a mistier tone. She’s a very purposeful player, and that focus extends to the band here: Christian Sands on piano, Luke Sellick on bass, Jimmy Macbride on drums, Mat Jodrell on trumpet and Joe McDonough on trombone.
They open with Whatever Happens, a bright, modally tinged swing tune, trumpet rising from purposeful to ecstatic and back over Sands’ spare, chordal piano work, a terse bass pulse and grittily accented drum work. Alto, trombone and piano solos afterward share a vibe that’s both more reflective and lighthearted.
Pettay plays I Am Thine O Lord as a tender love ballad over spare piano and a lithe, loose-limbed rhythm that grows funkier as the energy rises. The album’s title track opens with punchy syncopation in contrast to Pettay’s warmly sailing lines; then the group swing the tune by the tail, fueled by Sands’ brisk wide-angle chords.
He supplies lingering Rhodes to a tropically-tinged, gently funky take of the Stylistics’ You Make Me Feel Brand New, with sax, trumpet and eventually trombone hanging close to the original vocal line the first time around before expanding and returning with triumphant harmonies.
Shifting between waltz time and a straight-up, slow swing, For Wayne – a Shorter homage – has thoughtful solos from Pettay and Sands over a vampy backdrop. She goes back to swinging classic 50s style postbop for Straight Street, Sands’ scrambles contrasting with the bandleader’s calmly crescendoing lines.
She closes the album with three gospel jazz numbers. I Exalt Thee has a slow, raptly restrained groove, crystalline sax and a thoughtful, spacious Sellick solo before Pettay finally reaches for the rafters with apt exhaltation. Sands opens I Surrender All with a low-key organ solo before Pettay enters and prowls around the church; the rubato ambience suggests that it’s time everybody started to feel brand new. Are You Washed in the Blood rises from a claplong clave to a more New Orleans-flavored shuffle, Pettay working terse variations over a sunny, amiably swinging backdrop.