Monday, April 11, 2016

Ralph Peterson - Triangular lll (2016)

Label: Self Released
Source: Cdbaby

To invert a Ducal dialectic, this music does mean a thing, and means it right from the start—and swing at this level of vigor and accomplishment means no less than the vitality of jazz at the present time. Swing rhythm has always represented an engagement with time—clock time, musical time, historical time: all the unavoidable times in which we live—with the power to liberate us from time’s constrictions and open a human, syncopated pathway to life more abundant. I’m glad it’s still with us, on this record and in clubs like New Haven’s Firehouse 12—“I like the intimacy of the room,” Ralph Peterson told me. “It’s a great place to play, the piano is fantastic and the tech stuff is always on the highest level.”—to light us up in this increasingly punchback, backbeat world.
The first tune is pianist-composer Walter Davis Jr.’s near-standard, “Uranus”, the first of three Davis compositions Peterson has chosen in tribute to a master musician who was an influence and mentor early on. “I was nineteen years old, studying at Rutgers, and Walter came to town with Philly Joe Jones’s Dameronia. At the time, I was trying to play as much like Philly Joe as I could, and I wasn’t cutting it, but for some reason Walter took an interest in me, and we started talking regularly. He’d mention a record, not tell me to check it out, just mention it, but then he’d call the tune on me without even counting off. That was the way back then, the masters would give you one chance to not know something, and if you weren’t paying attention, that would be the end of their interest in you. Walter gave me my first real gig in New York City, in a band that also included Wynton and Branford Marsalis, and we play three of Walter’s tunes on this CD.”
The fleetness of the trio-playing coming out of the gate on the first of these is a particular thrill: even listeners who take bassists for granted—and you know who you are—should perk up at Luques Curtis pushing his bass line into the forefront of the beat to fuse with the leader’s multiform sense of push and pocket. Peterson notes that although Luques Curtis is heir to the great tradition of Latin bass from Cachao to Andy Gonzalez, his walking bass is impeccable. “He was a student at Berklee and when I first heard him he was at a level above where I expected him to be, and now, fourteen years down the line, well, his development speaks for itself in the music.” Peterson similarly says of Zaccai Curtis that while most pianists anchored in Latin music don’t play jazz with equal authority, and vice versa, there is no such division in the pianist on this date, as his athletically longlined improvisation on “Uranus” makes clear. Also note his graceful variations on the catchy melody of Sam Rivers’ “Beatrice”, the first of two tunes associated with Joe Henderson—“He’s one of the main non-drum playing influences on what I do,” said Peterson, “and Luques and Zaccai’s arrangement of “Inner Urge” is a particularly brilliant take on the tune, combining clavé and odd meter ingeniously.”
And so on into the rest of this very live recording, through powerhouses like Peterson’s “The Art of War”—note the nod of homage to McCoy Tyner’s early composition, “Inception”—lyrical remissions via “Moments” and Hoagy Carmichael’s classic “Skylark”, and all sorts of variety lights and darks. “Backgammon”, “Manifest Destiny”, and “400 Years of War” demonstrate how much rhythmic variety a muscular, intelligent piano trio can bring to the conversation. Extraordinary throughout is the fullness that Peterson’s drumming achieves without overwhelming either busily or dynamically the necessary balance of the trio format.
“That kind of sonic balance comes from thirty years of experiemce. A lot of people with a lesser vocabulary tend to use the words loud or powerful, whereas the word dynamic, and the understanding of the word dynamic, escapes them. Dynamics isn’t playing soft all the time any more than it’s playing loud all the time. It’s the distance between the two and how you navigate it . . . Trio drumming, or any drumming, is not not so much about what to play or how much to play, but why, and where, and when. Understanding what the music calls for and placing it correctly enhances the dynamic impact of the music you’re trying to get acrosss.”
The session closes with the speedball “Blues for Cooch”, and if you lose track of the structure, as I did, it helps to be told, as I was, that it’s an eighteen-bar blues, shaped from three groups of six bars, with an extra harmonic nuance at the end of the chorus, and it’s full of rich three-way invention and the jazz language of our time spoken at peak eloquence, with a full measure of fire and wit and passion: a live event capped, appropriately, by Peterson acknowledging his bandmates, then including the audience: “And you, and you, and you!”
Your luck is running high: now you’re in on it too.