Having come under the tutelage of Art Blakey (a.k.a. Buhaina, or “Bu” for short), drummer Ralph Peterson knows a thing or two about the value of mentorship. His time as a Jazz Messenger proved life-changing and he’s long been paying it forward through more formalized lines, teaching and rearing up-and-comers at one of jazz’s foremost talent incubators: the Berklee College of Music. Now, 35 years on from that moment when Blakey first brought Peterson onto the bandstand and pointed the way, the student-turned-sage is following in the master’s footsteps by taking his pupils into the real world.
This live recording in Boston—the fourth in a series showcasing different angles of Peterson’s work—serves as the debut of the GenNext Big Band. It’s an exuberant date, elevated by the leader’s fiery spirit and carried forward by some of Berklee’s finest young guns. Levels of enthusiasm run high, the material salutes the honoree’s book and being, and the presence of special guest (and fellow Blakey alum) Donald Harrison on five of the album’s nine tracks adds to the draw.
On numbers like “Uranus” and “Free for All,” the band embodies its more compact model by putting everything out there. The energy is palpable and the intensity is real. Elsewhere, on parts of the lilting “Pensativa” and the heartfelt title track, this crew wisely holds its pluck in reserve. More often than not, though, danger lurks around corners and equates to thrills. These fledgling musicians are hungry, and you can sense that in the sound and soul of their performances. They may lack a touch of polish, but they more than make up for that with an excess of verve.