Review: Ralph Peterson Fo’tet at Makeda Ethiopian Restaurant

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ–Rutgers graduate and former professor Ralph Peterson has been at the forefront of jazz since the 80’s, when he burst onto the scene with the Blue Note label’s supergroup, “OTB.”

In the ensuing decades, he has made a career as both a sideman and a bandleader, bringing his trademark soulful, polyrhythmic intensity to the studio and bandstand alike.

On Thursday, October 23, Peterson brought the newest iteration of his “Fo’Tet” to Makeda in as the New Brunswick Jazz Project’s “Jazz Leader.”

That characterization seems especially apt, as he has reimagined the group, which once included jazz luminaries like Don Byron and Steve Wilson, to feature an exciting and eclectic collection of young talent.

While Peterson is renowned as a bandleader, it’s hard to say enough about him as a drummer. He drives the music with almost superhuman force with crashes, out of time punctuations, and a groove that’s impossible to ignore.

At a few especially intense moments, his encouraging whoops and hollers (and even uproarious laughter) were clearly audible, adding to the party-like atmosphere.

And of course, Peterson’s band of young lions was more than up to the task of matching him. Clarinettist Felix Peikli was especially impressive; his sparkling and crystal clear tone soared over the ensemble, while vibraphonist Joseph Doubleday played beautifully both as a soloist and accompanist.

Bassist Alexander Toth rounded out the group, holding down the rhythm like a rock and giving the bandleader the freedom to play.

The ensemble performed mainly selections from their most recent recording “Alive at Firehouse 12 Vol. 2 – Fo’ n Mo.”

Composers like Chick Corea and Bud Powell were represented, as was much of Peterson’s own rhythmically challenging yet stunningly melodic and danceable catalog.

When he is next in town, it would behoove the people of New Brunswick to catch Ralph Peterson with whatever group he has in tow.  If it’s anything like this last performance, they’ll have a show to talk about for weeks and months to come.

Ralph Peterson Jr. – Drumset; Felix Peikli – Clarinet and Bass Clarinet; Joseph Doubleday – Vibraphone; Alexander Toth – Upright Bass