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Ralph Peterson: Raise Up Off Me (Onyx)

A review of the drummer's 26th and final album as a leader

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Ralph Peterson: Raise Up Off Me
The cover of Raise Up Off Me by Ralph Peterson.

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.

Learn more about Raise Up Off Me on Amazon!

Jeff Tamarkin

Jeff Tamarkin on social media

Jeff Tamarkin is the former editor of Goldmine, CMJ, Relix, and Global Rhythm. As a writer he has contributed to the New York Daily News, JazzTimes, Boston Phoenix, Harp, Mojo, Newsday, Billboard, and many other publications. He is the author of the book Got a Revolution: The Turbulent Flight of Jefferson Airplane and has contributed to The Guinness Companion to Popular Music, All Music Guide, and several other encyclopedias. He has also served as a consultant to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, NARAS, National Geographic Online, and Music Club Records.