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Ralph Peterson: The Duality Perspective

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Drummer Ralph Peterson was one of Art Blakey’s last protégés, and he seems to have drawn a lot from his mentor: a gregarious comfort in the leader’s position; a flaying mastery that drives his bands without flagging, even if that sometimes means privileging fire over precision; and a knack for rearing precocious talents.

On The Duality Perspective , Peterson’s 16th release as a leader, all of those inheritances show themselves, but he’s most concerned with the last. He assembled two groups for the album. The New Fo’Tet, which performs the record’s first five tunes, is an updated incarnation of the drums-vibes-clarinet-bass combo that Peterson, 50, has led since the early 1990s. This current version features three of his strongest students at Berklee College of Music, most notably the punchy and soaring clarinetist Felix Peikli. The record’s last five tracks are played by a sextet made up of figures with higher profiles, all from the generation that divides the prof and his current pupils: steamy, show-stealing trumpeter Sean Jones; alto saxophonist Tia Fuller; tenor saxophonist Walter Smith III; and the brothers Luques and Zaccai Curtis on bass and piano, respectively. Peterson worked with all of them before they ascended.

Peterson is determined to carry Blakey’s mantle of relentless mentorship, and he seems to believe in the drums as a jazz ensemble’s strongest stimulator, the instrument with the greatest potential to uplift. Surely, Peterson’s drumming sits at the center of the record, and it’s the main reason why the New Fo’Tet sounds almost as emphatically believable as the sextet. He leans heavily on Elvin Jones’ whirling locomotion and Tony Williams’ joggling hi-hat, but

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