The death of drummer Ralph Peterson Jr. on March 1 robbed jazz of one of its most inventive and prolific—and purely musical—practitioners. Peterson’s highly developed sense of swing brought a luster, and a playful edge, to the hundreds of recordings on which he served as sideman, and to his own as leader. Raise Up Off Me is his 26th of those, and will unfortunately be his last. Recorded in December 2020—with brothers Zaccai Curtis (piano) and Luques Curtis (bass), plus guests Jazzmeia Horn (vocals) and Eguie Castrillo (percussion), the album does Peterson’s legacy justice. It’s got everything that made him one of the most in-demand sticksmen of his time: sophistication, force, refinement, daring and—naturally—an impeccable sense of timing.
Five of the 13 tracks packed into Raise Up Off Me bear Peterson’s compositional credit, among them the title cut, which opens the program. A free-floating, open-ended improv, the piece ostensibly showcases Zaccai Curtis’ piano, but from the top it’s Peterson’s vigorous, ever-unpredictable fills and creative use of ornamental hand percussion that give the number its rich flavor. Among the covers—which come from sources as diverse as Patrice Rushen and James Williams—it’s Bud Powell’s timeless “Bouncing with Bud” that raises eyebrows the highest. Peterson takes the title’s “bouncing” literally—he prances, gallops, and skips all over the kit, delighting mischievously in the Curtises’ rock-steady rhythmic variations. On another original, “Fantasia Brazil,” Peterson and crew eschew bossa-nova conventions in favor of forward thrust, incorporating an all-too-short solo by the drummer that’ll leave a listener breathless.
Jazzmeia Horn’s otherworldly contributions to Peterson’s own “Tears I Can Not Hide” and John Hicks’ “Naima’s Love Song” tease a future both would have been wise to pursue further, but sadly never can.