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Ralph Peterson: Fo'Tet Augmented

John Kelman By

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While drummer Ralph Peterson has forged a consistently strong body of work, it is with his Fo'Tet that he has made his most cogent statement over the past fifteen years. And while more recent Fo'Tet incarnations, including first Steve Wilson and then Ralph Bowen on soprano saxophone, have been successful at maintaining the delicate yet powerful sonority resulting from the combination of a high-end horn and Bryan Carrott's deft vibraphone work, it was when Don Byron held down the reed chair on clarinet and bass clarinet that the group was at its most distinctive. The combination of vibes, clarinet, bass and drums gave the Fo'Tet a sound like no other. And, while projects including Back To Stay , The Reclamation Project and Plays Monk are strongly recommended, Peterson's first two Fo'Tet disks with Byron— Presents the Fo'Tet and Ornettology —still stand as the best group's best work.

Maybe it's because while Wilson and Bowen are fine players, Byron is a truly distinctive artist who has almost single-handedly reinvigorated and reinvented the clarinet for a modern time. And between Byron's Fo'Tet recordings with Peterson and Peterson's work on some of Byron's own early recordings, including Music for Six Musicians and the groundbreaking Tuskegee Experiments , they clearly share common ground with respect to honouring the tradition while steadfastly moving it forward.

And so it is thrilling news to see Byron back with the Fo'Tet on Fo'Tet Augmented , which explores Peterson's newfound appreciation and mastery of Afro-Cuban music. It may come as a surprise that Peterson, a drummer who has voraciously assimilated musical influences from Art Blakey to Ornette Coleman to Thelonious Monk, has only recently been exposed to the genre in a practical sense through his work with David Sanchez, but the one thing that can be counted on from Peterson is that if he sets his mind to understanding a particular style, not only does he accomplish it thoroughly, he manages to incorporate it into the personal musical vision that he has been honing since he emerged on the scene in the mid-'80s.

Hearing Byron and Peterson together again, one can only marvel at the remarkable interaction between the two, and how they raise the game of Carrott and bassist Beldon Bullock. From reinventing Joe Henderson's "Shade of Jade" as a Puerto Rican plena and Peterson's own lighter "Keep It Simple," where the Fo'Tet is augmented by percussionist Eguie Castrillo, to quartet tracks including the more elastic time and elliptical melody of "The Burning Sands," where Byron's burning modal solo is the definition of progressive, this is a Fo'Tet that has clearly regained its original vigour and forward momentum.

With Byron enjoying critical acclaim for his latest recording, Ivey-Divey , it is unclear whether this incarnation of the Fo'Tet will remain around indefinitely. But the obvious chemistry demonstrated with Byron in the mix will hopefully be enough of an incentive for the group to periodically reconvene and produce more fine records like Fo'Tet Augmented.

Track Listing: Shade of Jade; Surrender; The Burning Sands; Johnny Come Lately; Status Flux; Beautious B; Acceptance; The Commute; Keep It Simple

Personnel: Ralph Peterson (drums), Don Byron (clarinet, bass clarinet), Bryan Carrott (vibraphone), Belden Bullock (bass), Eguie Castrillo (percussion on "Shade of Jade," "Keep It Simple")

Title: Fo'Tet Augmented | Year Released: 2004 | Record Label: Criss Cross

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