Just on the verge of marking his 40th year on the planet, drummer Ralph Peterson is not old enough to be considered an elder statesmen, but certainly has moved passed the period usually defined with being a young lion. He’s had his ups and downs and seems to be currently on a new path towards documenting his own projects. It’s a shame that his Blue Note tenure was so short lived and that all of his records for that label are currently out of print because sets such as Volition served as a watermark for the kind of Nuevo hard bop that has always been part and parcel of Peterson’s animated line of attack.
Taking things one step further but certainly part of the continuum set forth in his Blue Note projects, The Art of War just may be Peterson’s most mature statement to date. It’s his first for Criss Cross and he makes the most of the occasion, introducing a young band that includes trumpeter Jeremy Pelt, saxophonist Jimmy Greene, pianist Orrin Evans, and bassist Eric Revis. The lion’s share of tunes come from the drummer’s pen and he continues to electrify with his own take on the post bop vernacular.
”Freight Train” just might be the most archetypical performance of the lot, straddling between a heavy backbeat and straight ahead swing. Jeremy Pelt, who is taking the current jazz scene by storm, gets into some incendiary moments as he repeats one note over and over, building up momentum and then resolving with a sly quote from Miles Davis’ “Jean Pierre.” The trumpeter’s own “Inner Sanctum” and “Apocalypse” show that he’s been listening to Davis classics circa 1966, but while these inspirations show themselves in his writing, his playing is a more personal amalgam.
As typical of Peterson’s art, the drums take a prominent role in the mix. So routines like “Smoke Rings” and “Monief” have the drummer skating in and out of the lead voices in a balancing act that marks Peterson as one of the great post-Elvin innovators. Meanwhile, Orrin Evans keeps the backgrounds awash with the kind of dense textures and empathetic interplay that have distinguished his own Criss Cross releases, which often also feature Peterson.
Like a perfect club set, The Art of War moves in varied ways and balances periods of intense and exploratory swing with more inward and romantic moments. It’s a wholly mature statement from an artist who continues to redefine the jazz language for now and hopefully into succeeding decades.
Track Listing: The Art of War, Inner Sanctum, Freight Train, All My Tomorrows, Apocalypse, A Choice Not Taken, Smoke Rings, Portrait of Jenny, Monief, Big Jimmy
Personnel: Ralph Peterson (drums), Jeremy Pelt (trumpet and flugelhorn), Jimmy Greene (tenor and soprano saxophones), Orrin Evans (piano), Eric Revis (bass)