We’ve lost so many great ones in the past year, some to Covid, some to other causes. For this writer, Ralph Peterson’s loss is especially difficult but my memories of Peterson leading the crowd in a chant of “Art Blakey, Art Blakey” before and after his Legacy Messenger Band’s riveting performance at Newport Jazz 2019 will forever remain vivid. What will remain vivid for even more people is Peterson’s indefatigable battle with cancer, recording and performing to the very end. Raise Up Off Me is a powerful, eminently spiritual closing chapter or epilogue, carefully prepared, knowing the end was near. It will be released one day after what would have been Peterson’s 59th birthday. This is not a Legacy Messengers installment but instead features his long-time bandmates Zaccai and Luques Curtis on piano and bass respectively. Vocalist Jazzmeia Horn guests as does percussionist Eguie Castrillo.
Peterson passed on March 1, 2021 after a six-year battle with cancer. This is his 26th recording as a leader and 28th for his own Onyx Productions record label. The album was recorded at the studio of the same name.
The album has five Peterson originals as well as compositions from Zaccai Curtis, Bud Powell, James Williams, Patrice Rushen, John Hicks and Walter Davis Jr. as he pays homage to his mentors and elders. The Peterson original title track opens solemnly, featuring emotive piano throughout from Curtis and stirring drum rolls from the leader as if to convey struggling. It is reprised as the closing track save the bonus “Please Do Something” from Jazzmeia Horn. The personal “The Right to Live” follows, much brighter in tempo, setting the kind of groove Peterson is known for. Williams’ “Four Play” is a brisk bop tune colored by the leader’s energetic solo. Curtis delivers “I Want To Be There for You,” in tender, elegant fashion as a fitting tribute to his mentor, the leader. The classic, familiar “Bouncing with Bud” gives the trio a chance to further stretch out in bebop mode.
Peterson’s own “Tears I Cannot Hide” from 2002’s SuAll Postsbliminal Seduction is given a makeover with Horn’s original lyrics and such heart-wrenching lines as “I am free, no more misery.” Horn stays aboard for a fiery take on Hicks’ “Naima’s Love Song,” engaging in her trademark scatting while Peterson takes a trumpet solo. “Jodi,” an original, carries a syncopated tricky but lively rhythm and stirring turns from each trio member including one from Zaccai on Rhodes, before Peterson nods to the bossa rhythms in his own “Fantasia Brazil,” one of the liveliest interpretations of the form you will hear as the leader takes an extended fatback drum excursion.
The intensity remains in the effervescent cover of pianist Patrice Rushen’s “Shorties Portion” before we again hear the familiar strains of the poignant title track. Jazzmeia Horn adds her bonus track “Please Do Something” featuring her combination of vocals and scat while Peterson dances wildly on the kit, indeed “doing something” as one of the most driven contemporary musicians, especially in this last decade. We’ve covered Peterson’s output over the past four years on these pages. We will miss him dearly, but this is fitting finale in so many respects. As live music returns this summer, hopefully, there will be a live tribute to Peterson from the many he touched. He more than deserves it.