Drummer Ralph Peterson, himself a legend, paid tribute to the great Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers by leading the Messenger Legacy Sextet at the Moss Theater. Presented by Ruth Price and the Jazz Bakery, the exciting night found Peterson heading a group that also featured trumpeter Brian Lynch, altoist Bobby Watson, tenor-saxophonist Bill Pierce, pianist Zaccai Curtis and bassist Essiet Essiet. Peterson had a chance to play next to Blakey when the latter briefly led a big band in the early 1980s. Of the sidemen, only the talented young pianist was not a former member of the Jazz Messengers. Peterson announced that he included Curtis in the band because he wanted it to be a legacy group that would continue the Messengers legacy into the 21st century.
Beginning with “One By One” and continuing with songs from the Messengers’ repertoire, the band played such numbers as “3 Blind Mice,” “Caravan” and “Blues March” along with some lesser-known pieces. Lynch in particular was in spectacular form, taking fiery choruses and popping out high notes with ease. Pierce, who played solid solos throughout, was featured on a version of “My One And Only Love” that showed off his beautiful tone. Watson, who showed that he could play both inside and outside at the same time, preached the blues on “Blues March,” launching a performance that found the sextet sounding a bit like a Jazz At The Philharmonic jam session. Essiet’s occasional solos were outstanding while Curtis, who was featured on “That Old Feeling,” played with confidence and had no difficulty fitting in with the veterans.
As for Ralph Peterson, he emulated Art Blakey in spots, used his tuned drums to humorously play the melody of “My Little Suede Shoes,” and was consistently colorful and inventive.
The Messenger Legacy Sextet’s performance was one that no Art Blakey fan should have missed.