Back in the early '90s, drummer Ralph Peterson was hot off an introductory phase that included a part played in the hard bop collective Out of the Blue. Formed by the powers that be at Blue Note upon the resurrection of the iconic label back in 1985, the ensemble saw several youngsters go on to bigger and greener pastures, and for Peterson this would include signing with Blue Note as a solo artist in his own right.
The drummer made several consistently fine recordings during his tenure with the label; however, it would be the albums documenting a group called the Fo'tet that really perked the ears of mainstream fans. Featuring Don Byron (a bit before his first major breakthrough), Bryan Carrott, and Melissa Slocum, the original quartet stayed together for only a brief period of time, although Peterson went on to record several more quartet albums under the moniker.
For The Fo'tet Augmented, Byron returns to the fold and percussionist Eguie Castrillo adds another layer of rhythmic texture to the first and last tracks. In fact, the strong Afro-Cuban groove that puts a fresh face on Joe Henderson's "Shade of Jade explores new territory that fans of this group should find especially intriguing. Peterson himself seems particularly inspired by Byron's presence on the incendiary and aptly titled "The Burning Sands, a perfect place to hear the two engage in spirited interactions that find the pair at the peak of their powers. The drummer's flashy fills take center stage as the vibes help establish a less crowded ensemble sound compared with what you get utilizing piano or guitar.
Two familiar favorites make a return. Billy Strayhorn's "Johnny Come Lately was first covered on the Fo'tet's debut release, and here it is taken at an even faster pace, the stop time passages still giving this line an off-kilter personality that speaks volumes for individuality and innovation. The odd-metered "Status Flux appeared on Ornettology and its multifarious structure offers some of the most adventurous playing of the date. By contrast, "Beauteous B goes for a mellow mood, with Byron's woody tone reaching for the low notes and Carrot pacing himself over the course of a particularly rich statement.
In addition to the opportunity this disc provides as somewhat of a reunion for Byron and Peterson, several of the tracks reflect the drummer's recent study of rhythms from the Afro-Latin tradition. In this regard, Peterson's own "Acceptance is the centerpiece of the date, containing some dazzling solo forays and laying down an authentic cascara groove. Castrillo returns for "Keep It Simple and Byron's bass clarinet adds weight to a piece built upon a rising cadence of chord changes that seems to resolve only after building a good deal of tension.
Ralph Peterson continues to thrive as one of his generation's most talented bandleaders and composers, even if the critical plaudits haven't always been commensurate with his true abilities. Thank goodness that Criss Cross Jazz remains an indispensable ally willing to let Peterson document his musical muse unfettered.
Personnel: Ralph Peterson (drums), Don Byron (clarinet, bass clarinet), Bryan Carrott (vibes), Belden Bullock (bass), Eguie Castrillo (percussion)