Say the words “gospel jazz,” and what comes to mind is likely something along the lines of Nat Adderley’s “Sermonette”: bluesy, down-home, and uplifting. But when saxophonist Jordan Pettay offers her take on “I Surrender All”—a classic hymn that has been recorded by everyone from Mahalia Jackson to Cece Winans to Michael W. Smith—don’t be surprised if you find yourself reminded of John Coltrane from around the time of A Love Supreme. It isn’t that Pettay, who describes herself as a committed Christian, is afraid of taking things to church; the performance kicks off with a chapel-worthy B-3 intro by keyboardist Christian Sands. But she’s also the sort of soloist who can translate the power of a spiritual journey into musical terms, and while she’s not quite at Coltrane’s level, her wealth of ideas and command of the soprano suggest that she’s on the same path.
First Fruit, Pettay’s Kickstarter-funded debut, isn’t all gospel numbers. Sure, there’s a driving, ecstatic rendition of Fanny Crosby’s “I Am Thine, O Lord,” and a funky take on the classic hymn “Are You Washed in the Blood?” But there’s also a solidly swinging reading of Coltrane’s “Straight Street” that shows off Pettay’s alto chops (not to mention how well she works off Sands’ sly harmonic twists), and a clever arrangement of the Stylistics hit “You Make Me Feel Brand New” that includes deft solos by trumpeter Mat Jodrell and trombonist Joe McDonough. Pettay also provides a couple of hard-boppish originals, but she shows the most promise, compositionally, on the meditative ballad “For Wayne,” which gives a clear sense of what she’s learned from that particular master.