|Drummer Ralph Peterson|
Ralph Peterson’s Unity Project concert, which kicked off the Jazz at The Centre monthly series, was the first concert when it was over my reporter’s notebook was almost empty. It wasn’t that way because Peterson’s band—saxophonist Craig Handy, trumpeter Josh Evans and organist Jake Sherman—sucked, quite the contrary. Throughout the concert I was too busy patting my feet, bobbing my head, and high-fiving the guy seated next to me to take notes.
Peterson put on an exciting concert, setting the bar high for the acts Skip Norris, who dreamed up this series, have booked in the coming months. Norris wasn’t overpraising Peterson by telling the crowd at the Paul Robeson Theatre in the Northwest Activities Center that Peterson is one of the most exciting jazz drummers in the nation.
Peterson, a native of New Jersey, is a tenured professor at Berklee College of Music with 20 albums on the market. Like his idol and former employer the iconic drummer Art Blakey, Peterson has a knack for spotting and for developing young talent. Some of his former students performed on his highly touted album Duality Perspective.
Friday night, Peterson started the two hour concert with a duet with Jake Sherman, one of Peterson’s former students. They horsed around for roughly 10 minutes before Handy and Evans crashed the party.
Sherman was supposed to be the focal point of the band. He’s a capable organist with a ton of promise. But at times he seemed outmatched. His soloing although competent and imaginative didn’t move the crowd like Peterson’, Handy’s and Evans’ soloing did.
Evans is a fire-breather. He reminded me of trumpeter Sean Jones. On Moontrane and Katerina Ballerina, Evans was blowing so forcefully I thought the trumpet was going to blow up in his hands. He came in a close second to Peterson for the most memorable concert highlights. Peterson surpassed him by only a nose hair.
On the bandstand, many jazz drummers are hams. Honestly, Peterson can be one at times. Last night, on a few numbers he got beside himself twirling the drums in the air. Still, he is a jazz drummer I could listen to daily.
He came up with unbelievable solos throughout the concert. A few years ago he weighed over 300 pounds, he told the audience. He’s lost over 100 pounds. Watching him play, I wondered if he lost the weight performing. All night, he worked out on the drums like a fitness nut.
The music was right on, and Peterson’s Unity Project was the ideal band to kick off the Jazz at The Centre series. The sound system was too loud. Some of the people in the front row moved near the back of the theater. Peterson was constantly signaling to the engineer to adjust the microphones. The technical glitches got in the way of it being a flawless concert.