Richard B. Kamins, Step Tempest

The drummer, educator, and mentor Ralph Peterson literally burst into the public ears in 1985 as a member of O.T.B. (Out of the Blue), a group of young musicians that Blue Records Records created to showcase younger talent.  He worked with so many musicians through his career including Tom Harrell, Terence Blanchard, Geri Allen, Charles Lloyd, and Betty Carter.  But the once person who made the biggest impression on his person and career was drummer Art Blakey.  Peterson was one of the few drummers who the great master invited to play in his bands, the talent incubator known as The Jazz Messengers.  The younger man learned that you give everything on the bandstand and that you expect the same from the people you work with as well as to pass on the jazz traditions through your music and through teaching.  Peterson has done just that over the years creating groups that featured younger players such as clarinetist Don Byron, vibraphonist Bryan Carrott, pianist Orrin Evans, and trumpeter Sean Jones (among others).

Peterson has been recording prolifically over the past few years for his own Onyx label. Most of those albums feature younger musicians recorded live.  The newest addition to the catalogue, “Legacy Alive: Volume 6: Live at The Side Door“, is credited to Ralph Peterson & The Messenger Legacy, a sextet composed of musicians who played with Mr. Blakey (1919-1990) in the late 1970s and through 80s.  What a unit – Bill Pierce (tenor saxophone), Bobby Watson (alto saxophone), Brian Lynch (trumpet, Essiet Essiet (bass), and Geoffrey Keezer(piano), who along with Peterson, swing their way through 11 pieces associated with the Jazz Messengers repertoire (the group stayed active for 35 years!)

Photo: Peter Leng Xiong

The program was recorded over two nights in October 2018. The Side Door Jazz Clubin Old Lyme is owned and operated by Ken Kitchings (Rich Martin does the booking) and there is no bigger or more vocal supporter of the music in the state than he.  If you listen closely, you can hear Kitchings shouting his encouragement throughout and the end of songs. Why not?  The sextet is having a great time, they all play with gusto, the material is top-notch, and the sound is great. The drums and piano come through loud and clear; Brian Lynch’s trumpet cuts through the mix with his delightful blend of riffs, smears, and articulated lines. It’s so great to hear Bill Pierce playing so strong, his bluesy solos are a treat.  Bobby Watson, who joined the Messengers in 1977, has always played with wit, humor, and when called for, grace. He does so here as well.  He also has blues in his background but he can fly with ease over this band. Check him out on his “In Case You Missed It“, a tune on which everyone solos with abandon.  Geoffrey Keezer, who joined the Messengers when he was 18, also plays with great wit and spontaneity.  Listen to his unaccompanied opening of “That Ole Feeling” – he sets the pace for the band who dance delightfully behind his sparkling keyboard.  His solo on Curtis Fuller’s  “A La Mode” is flat-out amazing

As for the leader, he’s always been fun to listen to. Yes, his power can overwhelm some groups but not this one.  His ability to push a band, to prod soloists, to stop-on-a-dime, to create a storm that not only dazzles listeners and make them shout but also is so darn joyous – Peterson is having fun, even as you realize that some of this material was composed 40, 50, over 60 years – this band makes it sound contemporary.  The Juan Tizol – Duke Ellington classic “Caravan” was first recorded in 1936. Listen here and it’s alive, ebullient, and powerful.  “Three Blind Mice“, credited to Anthony Rooley and Thomas Ravenscroft (who wrote the melody in 1611), was recorded by Blakey in 1962 in a quintet that included Wayne Shorter and Freddie Hubbard.  The arrangement is quite similar and the overall effect is as well.  The sextet also takes an energetic run through Shorter’s “Children of the Night” (which he composed and recorded with The Messengers in 1961).

Thanks to the great engineering and mastering, the music on “Legacy Alive” is loud and clear. Every member of the Messenger Legacy gives his all (just as Art Blakey commanded them to do during their tenure with him) – it’s that dedication, that desire to communicate living history, that makes this music so thrilling.  Just start with first track “A La Mode“: if that does not make you jump up and shout, call the doctor immediately! Also, check out the great cover collage by CT-based artist Andres Chaparro. It exemplifies the powerhouse that Ralph Peterson has been throughout his career and who is today.

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Here’s that opening track:

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