Sunday, July 20, 2014
The Power of Positive Music
Lawrence's soprano saxophone appears on only 1 cut and that's the title track. Building up from the solid piano chords, Lawrence takes the listener on a journey that rocks and swings. After Watts kicks up a storm beneath the sax, Payton steps in and begins a journey of his own while the drummer responds to the powerful phrases emanating from the trumpet. Pianist Gonzalez takes a bluesy turn that shows the Tyner influence (Essiet's bass lines are active and attractive.)
Azar Lawrence never disappeared from the music scene, playing jazz and fusion jazz - in recent years, he has worked with pianist Gonzalez as well as drummer Franklin Kiermyer. "The Seeker" shows he's lost none of the power that appealed to listeners in the mid-1970s. If anything, his playing seems even stronger these days. For more information, go to azarlawrence.com.
"ALIVE at Firehouse 12 Vol 2: Fo' n Mo'" is the 4th release on the label. Recorded in December of 2013, the drummer blends his youthful Fo'Tet - Felix Peikli (clarinets), Joseph Doubleday (vibraphone) and the uncredited (on my edition) Alex Claffy (bass) - with guests Eguie Castrillo (percussion) and Steve Wilson (soprano saxophone). The fire displayed by the group on tracks such as "Humpty Dumpty" (a Chick Corea composition from his 1978 "Mad Hatter" album) and Bud Powell's "Celia" gets one's blood roiling. On the latter track, Peikli absolutely flies over the strong percussion duo of Castrillo and Peterson. That exciting music is tempered a long, evocative, reading of Billy Strayhorn's "Chelsea Bridge" that puts the spotlight on Wilson's magical soprano work, Doubleday's ringing vibes and the powerful bass of Claffy. Castrillo's unaccompanied congas open Peterson's handsome medium-tempo ballad/bossa nova "The Tears I Cannot Hide" which, after the entire band plays through the fine melody, leads to a hardy bass solo and soaring clarinet statement. The six musicians dance through a joyful performance of Stevie Wonder's "Overjoyed" - the blend of soprano sax and clarinet makes the melody lines stand out.
The leader's powerful work stands out throughout the recording yet Peterson has learned to temper his enthusiasm so that the melody stands out. His solo that opens "Surrender" is impressive in an understated way; even as he sets the pace for the band, the drummer is serving the songs. Peterson has always been a muscular drummer, loud even on ballads (at times). Now, he is a mentor, bringing young talent to the fore, giving them a solid education on and off the bandstand, lessons they will pass on as they develop into leaders and educators. While this music has plenty of solos over its 74 minutes, the listener will/should pay as much attention to the work of the rhythm section, to the melodies, the harmonies and how the musicians give their all on each and every song.
Ralph Peterson makes music that is "Alive", alive with possibilities and ideas. The sound on this CD, captured by Firehouse 12 owner Nick Lloyd and venue manager Carl Testa, is brilliant, especially the sound of the drums (no surprise), the percussion and the vibraphone. The New Haven venue is quickly becoming a favorite for "live" recordings, with releases over the past few years from Marcus Strickland, Wayne Escoffery, Armen Donelian and Taylor Ho Bynum. It's also a great room for the audience, allowing close proximity to the creative process.
For more information about this and other Ralph Peterson recordings, go to www.ralphpetersonmusic.com.