In 1983, Art Blakey invited fellow timekeeper Ralph Peterson to perform with Blakey’s two-drummer big band at the Boston Globe Jazz Festival. It was a life-changing experience for Peterson, whose debut album with his Boston-based GenNext Big Band, I Remember Bu,honors Blakey’s memory (the late drummer’s Muslim name was Abdullah ibn Buhaina, and he was usually called “Bu”). Sharing a name like GenNext, the members of Peterson’s ensemble are presumably young and more than likely energetic. The first part of that assumption is borne out by photos on the front and back of the album’s outer jacket, the second by the ardor with which they come to grips with the session’s nine galvanic numbers.
To add a dash of experience, Peterson has called upon alto saxophonist and Blakey alum Donald Harrison to display his artistry on five selections, one of which, the fiery “New York,” he also wrote. Harrison doesn’t disappoint; his solos on “New York,” Walter Davis Jr.‘s “Uranus,” Clare Fischer‘s “Pensativa,” Wayne Shorter‘s “Free for All” and Todd Bashore‘s “For Paul” are bold and resourceful. Harrison sits out on the other four tunes: JoAnne Brackeen‘s undulating “Egyptian Dune Dance,” Charles Fambrough‘s buoyant “Little Man,” Bobby Watson‘s fast-moving, bop-centered “Ms. BC” and Peterson’s ardent hymn to Blakey, “I Remember Bu.”
As should be the norm on any tribute to Blakey, there’s a lot of vigorous drumming along the way but it may or may not involve Peterson, as no less than four drummers are listed in the credits and there is no way to ascertain what role any of them plays. And as this is a “next generation” band, a mandatory albeit gratuitous rapper (Ryan Easter) disrupts the flow on “Egyptian Dune Dance,” spouting some nondescript gibberish before the band gets back to the business at hand. But that is an aberration; for the most part, the GenNext ensemble bends its collective shoulder to the wheel and breathes life into the music set before it. The band includes several admirable soloists of its own but none is listed in the credits. There is an audience (the album was recorded live at Scullers Jazz Club in Boston) but it remains silent until the end of each number. Even though he was best known as leader of the Jazz Messengers, Blakey loved big bands and surely would have appreciated this heartfelt tribute by a self-assured and talented group of young musicians.