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Ralph Peterson’s Unity Project: Outer Reaches

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Outer Reaches is drummer Ralph Peterson’s tribute to organist Larry Young and trumpeter Woody Shaw. Not surprisingly, its 12 tracks include two-thirds of their 1965 New Thing classic, Unity. The quartet (Peterson, trumpeter Josh Evans, saxophonist Jovan Alexandre and organist Pat Bianchi) also performs tunes by John McLaughlin and Peterson himself, in a solid but unexceptional journey from soul-jazz to fusion.

Bianchi steeps himself in the soul that Young took bold leaps out of. Hence “The Moontrane” and “Beyond All Limits” have gospel and blues injected back into them. But these elements were always indispensable to Young’s soul-jazz “Ritha,” which Peterson and Bianchi attack as in a loose, funky jam session. Bianchi is at his greasiest, however, on Peterson’s original “An Inside Job,” a hard-bop quartet piece that keeps the drummer busy following him.

Busy is a good word for Peterson’s work on the album. He takes extended solos on eight tracks, sounding fine and swinging throughout (with a magnificent slow burn on “We Three Kings”), and on most tunes gives a sudden great release of aggression on the head reprise. The cumulative effect of Bianchi and Peterson’s intensity mitigates what would otherwise be a hard left turn into Hendrix-ian guitar harshness-courtesy of guest David Fiuczynski-on John McLaughlin’s “Spectrum,” the album’s closer.

It’s the frontline that keeps the album from catching fire. Evans and Alexandre are competent players, and have their standout moments, but largely they’re even-keeled, even complacent. Moreover, Evans’ trumpet has a strangled, artificial-sounding tone. He and Alexandre are no match for Peterson.

Originally Published