Ralph Peterson – The Duality Perspective (2012)

Edward LaRose’s painting on the cover, itself so full of ying-and-yang dualities, sets an expectant tone for Ralph Peterson’s layered and challenging new recording — and the drummer delivers.

The Duality Perspective, due June 19, 2012, from Onyx, begins with a series of cuts from Peterson’s youthful fo-tet, highlighted by the opening song’s appropriately involving sweet-and-sour sound. (Peterson aptly describes “One False Move” as “swunk,” a combination of swing and funk.) The second half of the disc is devoted to music from his more established sextet, another element in the project’s intricate, endlessly fascinating sound. That group, in direct contrast to that opener number, burns with a scalding heat on the closing “Pinnacle.”

Peterson, hand-picked by Art Blakey as the second drummer in his Jazz Messenger Big Band, has gone on to work with Terence Blanchard, Branford Marsalis, Michael Brecker and Betty Carter over a nearly 30-year career. But Blakey remains a touchstone influence, and not just in the explosive way that Peterson can attack his kit.

Go back to the album’s cover image. The tree in LaRose’s painting has roots inscribed with elders and mentors, each feeding into the branches of Peterson’s own musical lineage. It’s something that deftly mirrors Peterson’s own musical narrative: The fo-tet, featuring current students of his at Boston’s Berklee College of Music, was originally conceived during Peterson’s stint with Blakey — and it shares the Jazz Messengers’ ever-evolving sense of youthful mentorship. (Founding fo-tet member Bryan Carrott passes the proverbial torch here, playing marimba alongside the new incarnation’s vibraphonist Joseph Doubleday.) Meanwhile, Peterson’s more established sextet keeps a steadier lineup, though it too has become a concurrent incubator of jazz talents — having helped launch the career of trumpet Sean Jones, among others.

As with Blakey, Peterson’s work with these youthful sidemen not only sparked new creative ideas, it helped Peterson establish his own unique voice in jazz.

So, as personal as The Duality Perspective can no doubt be — the fo-tet’s sweetly charming “Addison and Anthony,” inspired by Peterson’s grandchildren; the sextet’s seductive and elegent “You Have Know Idea,” dedicated to Peterson’s wife — there is always this very real sense of collaboration. That ends up giving the album yet another level of complexity, as it spins.

Peterson is, without question, the leader. But as with Blakey before him, he gains strength from being followed.

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Nick DeRiso

Over a 30-year career, Nick DeRiso has also explored music for USA Today, All About Jazz, Ultimate Classic Rock and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the nation by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Contact him at nderiso@somethingelsereviews.com.