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Ralph Peterson: Triangular III

C. Andrew Hovan By

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At the age of 53, Ralph Peterson has come full circle in terms of his role in modern jazz. Back in the '80s, he was considered a "young lion" when he debuted with hard bop collective Out of the Blue. These days, he can be considered an accomplished jazz elder, giving back generously to a new generation of up and comers as a dedicated educator. It is in this spirit that he has assembled a new piano trio group with two of the best and brightest talents on the current scene, pianist Zaccai Curtis and his brother Luques Curtis on bass.

The first installment of the Triangular series goes back to the 1989 Blue Note session featuring Geri Allen. Then in 2000 the sophomore set would spotlight pianist David Kikoski. This latest incarnation is something different altogether, both in the fact that it is a live recording and that there's a special element contained in the work of the Curtis brothers that seems to really inspire Peterson to new heights. Furthermore, this is a musician-owned product bearing the imprimaturs of both Onyx Records and Truth Revolution.

A mentor of Peterson's, pianist Walter Davis Jr. gave the drummer an early education in growth and development as an artist. One need go no further than a listen to Davis's Steeplechase set Scorpio Rising to hear the innate potential of the young drummer. Peterson repays the favor by featuring three of Davis' sublime originals. The opening "Uranus" is a genuine flag-waver, with its ingenious use of an eight note repeated vamp that provides the underlayment for one of Ralph's incendiary solos. "Backgammon" is notable for a sublime statement from Luques, a fully developed story that hits the high points and low points and everything in between. The bassist also ushers in "400 Years Ago Tomorrow," a stately melody that is contrasted against a swing-inflected blowing section.

A tip of the hat is given to a pair of Blue Note saxophonists, although uniquely fresh arrangements are the order of the day for this trio. Sam Rivers' "Beatrice" opens with the vamp figure from Coltrane's "Syeeda's Song Flute." The entire piece is an example of how Zaccai can set a mood through his mature storytelling. The Curtis' Latin roots can be heard in the 5/4 clave that transforms "Inner Urge." Ralph maneuvers his way through the thorny grove, adding further textures via the use of jam block and cowbell.

Zaccai contributes two of his own originals to the set. "Manifest Destiny" seems to be cut of the same cloth as Joe Chambers' Blue Note compositions of the late '60s. Of a more introspective nature, "Moments" starts with Ralph using his mallets on the toms to establish a mood. He then uses a tambourine attachment to accent key phrases along with the pianist's right hand. With a distinct sense of ebb and flow, this beautiful piece might be one of the highlights of the entire set.

Ralph's own compositional genius is represented by an upbeat "The Art of War," a swinger that alludes to the drummer's martial arts background as a fourth-degree black belt. "Blues for Cooch" is a reference to a young Peterson's fascination with trains, but its form evades the customary. Eschewing the 12-bar form of the blues, this original actually is structured in eighteen bars, made up of three groups of six. Pay close attention to how Zaccai and Luques make it all sound so natural. Not an easy feat to be sure.

Recorded just prior to Peterson undergoing hospitalization for some serious health issues, there is a sense of joy and abandon in these proceedings that is palpable. Aided and abetted by a fine recording job, it is no exaggeration to suggest that this might be one of the drummer's finest recorded moments and it certainly speaks volumes in terms of the potential of the Curtis Brothers.

Track Listing: Uranus; Beatrice; Inner Urge; Backgammon; Manifest Destiny; Skylark; 400 Years Ago Tomorrow; The Art of War; Moments; Blues for Cooch.

Personnel: Ralph Peterson, Jr.: drums; Zaccai Curtis: piano; Luques Curtis: bass.

Title: Triangular III | Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: Onyx Music Label

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