Friday, August 24, 2012

Ralph Peterson: The Duality Perspective

Ralph Peterson is one of my favorite drummers. He's hopefully one of yours, as well. But to call Peterson a "drummer" is such a small part of the equation; like many of the great jazz drummers, he's a "musician who plays the drums." He is a prolific and creative composer, and also plays trumpet better than most trumpet players! He's not a bad pianist and bassist, and is a confident and authoritative bandleader in the tradition of the greats. Peterson has been a tenured professor at Berklee College of Music for many years, and judging from the young drummers I hear who are trying to sound like him, is doing a wonderful job as an educator.

Peterson always seems to have a new recording coming out; his latest is called "The Duality Perspective." The name seems to mostly come from the fact that here Peterson equally features his two working bands: the Fo'tet and the Sextet. It's a cool idea; I like  the fact that you have the variety of two very different sets of instrumentation, and yet it's still got a certain cohesiveness to it. Of course, much of the cohesiveness is driven by the unmistakable drumming and writing of Peterson. Peterson understands form, harmony, and melody; but without his enthusiastic interpretation, the music would most likely have a much different flavor. And Peterson's writing has developed over the years. There's still a lot of swing, but there's also a more intense poly-rhythmic element, as well as a great sense of architecture; every tune feels like a real event. There's no filler here, it's all 100 percent beef.

"One False Move" is a musical magic trick; the opening vamp would have you think that the pulse was based on something in 5, but it's kind of like a big 5 in the bass over a big 6, although what Peterson plays on the ride cymbal might make you tap your foot on 12 beats( I haven't seen the score....). And the vibraphone ostinato is 5/8 (I think) superimposed over of that. Furthermore, Peterson adds triplets on the snare, which add to the swirling ferociousness. And we haven't even gotten to the melody yet! The clarinet theme floats above it all, keeping with the C minor pentatonic flavor, with a slight detour of using the natural 6th. After feeling hypnotized by all of this activity, there's a sudden break, and then a new section which feels like 3 bars of 5 with some suspended Kenny Kirklandish chords. A little "One Finger Snap"ish lick and we are back to the original vibe(no pun intended). In a way this tune is like if Steve Coleman wrote a tune for Art Blakey's band.

Felix Peikli
The sound of the Fo'tet, while filled to the rim with rhythm, is a softer sound than a horn-based group, due to the rare mix of vibraphone and clarinet as the lead. ( I say rare being fully aware of the work of Benny Goodman and Lionel Hampton. I can only imagine what they would make of this music....) I'm impressed with the improvisational efforts of Joseph Doubleday on Vibraphone and Felix Peikli on clarinet. And of course, bassist Alexander L.J. Toth has got to get props for being able to hang with Peterson.

Since I've known Peterson, he's always seemed to have an interest in Afro-Cuban rhythms. His arrangement of Theolonious Monk's "Four In One", in a 7/4 mambo, feels surprisingly natural.(What is it about Monk tunes that always makes them work seamlessly in Afro-Cuban clave?) There's some nice percussion work by Reinaldo DeJesus, and Bryan Carrott, a former Fo'tet member, adds a nice Caribbean flavor, and also takes a nice solo further into the song.

"Addison and Anthony" is a pretty waltz lullabye. The melody is gorgeously presented by Peikli's bass clarinet. Harmonically, this tune mixes simple major chords with some sneaky poly-chords(C/Bb in the 8th bar, and A/Bb in the 2nd bar of the bridge, for example, are somewhat shocking next to chords which are much gentler sounding), and is a nice change of pace from the excitement of the previous two pieces. "Bamboo Bends In the Storm" is another impassioned improvisational vehicle. It's kind of a hybrid fusion of Latin and Fusion, with just a hint of percussion. The chords with moving inner voices and the bass melodies accentuated by the bass clarinet make me think Wayne Shorter's later writing. "Princess" is a nice burner to close out the Fo'tet portion of the CD. No one matches Peterson on these kind of tunes, for my money. Peikli is super confident as a soloist, and can handle anything rhythmically that Peterson throws at him.

Zaccai Curtis
"Coming Home" and the rest of the CD features a completely different band. The Ralph Peterson Sextet is Luques Curtis on bass, Zaccai Curtis on piano, Sean Jones on trumpet, Walter Smith on tenor, Tia Fuller on alto and soprano saxophones. This tune reminds me of some of Don Braden's compositions; it makes great use of the horns in terms of coloring the harmony (Peterson and I did play with a short lived sextet of Braden's a few years back, come to think of was called the Contemporary Standards Ensemble, and we did one recording for Double Time Records...). I had only heard Tia Fuller play alto previously, but she's really impressive on soprano. Zaccai Curtis takes a piano solo which leans towards Kenny Kirkland(which always wins points with me!)

"Impervious Gems" adds percussionist DeJesus and another named Edwin Bayard for an Afro-Cuban 12/8 piece. Sean Jones combines power and finesse into a great solo, which leads us from the 12/8 naturally into a 4/4 swing. Walter Smith's solo contrastingly heads into an up tempo mambo, which gives him a chance to musically spar with Peterson. Zaccai Curtis does a great job as a soloist, and also as an accompanist on this one.

Tia Fuller
"The Duality Perspective" is another nice waltz, although much different from "Addison and Anthony"; it's got denser harmony and more depth of emotion. Smith and Fuller, the latter back on alto, are both featured nicely here. "You Have Know Idea" is a nice lyrical piece which again makes great use of the percussion. There are some cool bass and piano left hand unisons, which are contrapuntal against some interesting horn lines. "Pinnacle", which is a serious up tempo burner (and again features an unstoppable Peterson in his unique post modern swing element), is a great way to end the CD."The Duality Perspective" has a flow of two complete sets of music in one CD; if there has been a gig with both bands, it would make sense to play the 5 Fo'tet pieces and stretch it into one hour, take a break, and then have the second set be the sextet and do the same thing. In that sense, the CD is actually very concentrated material; it really is like getting two CDs in one.

I downloaded this CD from Itunes. I tried to find a link from Ralph Peterson's website, but it took me to a CD Baby link that said it was down for maintenance. So I would go with Itunes. "The Duality Perspective" has something for every jazz fan; great rhythm, great solos, great writing, and a great feeling. This is one of Ralph Peterson's best albums yet.

For a little sample of the current Fo'tet, check out this video.....

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