By: Doug Ramsey, Arts Journal

Ralph Peterson Feature_Page_1We continue our survey of albums, mostly recent, all part of the unceasing Rifftides effort to make you aware of music that the RT staff deems worth hearing. As I write, I glance down occasionally at the four stacks of new releases dropped off over the past couple of weeks by the mailman, FedEx, UPS and, once in a while, delivery services based in exotic places like Sweden, Brazil and Japan. Paying concentrated attention to all of the new arrivals is out of the question. Some, however, simply cannot be passed over. Here is one of those.

Peterson’s two-disc album is a tribute to Art Blakey, the drummer who inspired him when he was a New Jersey teenager about to turn professional. In his liner notes, Russ Musto calls the Jazz Messengers, “arguably the greatest small group in the history of jazz.” Those who would argue with Musto’s argument might invoke Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five, The Benny Goodman Trio, Charlie Parker with Dizzy Gillespie, and the Art Tatum Trio, among other major groups of previous decades. Assessing degrees of greatness is always a chancy business.

While still in college, Peterson worked with Sonny Stitt, Curtis Fuller, Nat Adderley and other major artists of the post-bop era. He has long followed Blakey’s dedication to seeking out the most promising younger players available. Those who join him in this collection are youngish but among the most experienced of their generation. They are saxophonists Bill Pierce and Bobby Watson, trumpeter Brian Lynch, bassist Essiet Essiet and pianist Geoffrey Keezer. At one time or another, all worked with Blakey in the Messengers. Peterson has the added distinction of having been chosen by Blakey to be the second drummer in a Blakey big band, working on several occasions with the maestro during Blakey’s final years. His playing here reminds this listener that, in addition to the power he sometimes takes to thunderous levels, Peterson makes exquisite use of quietness and, now and then, the eloquence of silence. Essiet, Keezer and the horn players all have splendid solos, with Lynch’s trumpet frequently soaring above the ensemble, his tone remarkably full even while it penetrates the atmosphere. The music was handsomely recorded during two evenings at the Side Door Jazz Club in Old Lyme, Connecticut.

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