Drummer/composer Ralph Peterson marks birthday with release of “The Duality Perspective” on June 19 on Onyx Music

The painting by Edward LaRose that graces the cover of The Duality Perspective, drummer/composer Ralph Peterson‘s new release and 16th as a leader, is a dynamic illustration of the album’s driving principles. The yin yang symbol in the background represents the balance between the two ensembles that appear on the record, the young, next-generation Fo’tet and the more established Sextet. The names of the members of each group are spelled out on the branches of a tree, the Sextet side fully flowering while the Fo’tet side is still budding; the tree’s roots are inscribed with the names of elders and mentors including Art Blakey, Elvin Jones, and Bill Fielder.
At the center of all of this is a portrait of Peterson himself, the locus of the enterprise both musically and spiritually. It is Peterson that nurtures this living, growing entity so that buds will bloom, branches will grow and thrive, and roots will delve ever deeper and stronger.
The Duality Perspective thus embodies youth and maturity, past; past, present and future; and diverse stylistic approaches based on a common language. In a bit of word association, Peterson characterizes the young, hungry Fo’tet as “dry ice, so cold it’ll burn you,” and the all-star Sextet as “richly rooted, one foot in the tradition, the other foot in tomorrow.” But as he acknowledges, “Each has a distinct sound and approach, yet they have a commonality at the core.”
Of course, as Peterson is quick to point out, there are more than two sides to his musical identity. (“Later on there might be a record called The Multiplicity Perspective,” he muses.) Besides his incomparable talent behind the drumkit, which has led to collaborations with the likes of Terence Blanchard, Branford Marsalis, David Murray, Roy Hargrove, Jon Faddis, Michael Brecker, Steve Coleman and Betty Carter over a nearly thirty-year career – not to mention being hand-picked by Art Blakey as the second drummer in the legendary bandleader’s Jazz Messenger Big Band until Blakey’s 1990 death – Peterson is an agile trumpeter and a respected educator.
Celebrating Peterson’s 50th birthday, The Duality Perspective is the veteran drummer’s 16th album as a leader and the second release on his own Onyx Music label, following last year’s acclaimed Outer Reaches. Turning 50, Peterson says, has been accompanied by some positive adjustments in his lifestyle. 

“These changes helped me to be the best person I can be,” he says in a news release, “and the best person will always produce the best music. I think this is one of my best records because it very much says where I am right now.”
The importance of unifying distinct elements into a distinctive whole springs directly from Peterson’s martial arts training. A third-degree black belt and Buddhist, Peterson has studied tae kwon do on and off for more than two decades. 

“As I continue my martial arts training,” he says, “Asian philosophical concepts like yin and yang become more important to me and I’m able to fuse them back into my other artistry, my music art. It also helps me stay physically fit, so I can play with the vigor of my youth but add to it the maturity and wisdom I’ve gotten through my experiences.”

The growth and replenishment of the album cover’s family tree is vividly evidenced by the current membership of Peterson’s Sextet, most of whom were in the budding stage themselves when Peterson began working with them. Trumpeter Sean Jones was a student at Rutgers University, who then introduced Peterson to saxophonist Tia Fuller; saxophonist Walter Smith III was a student in one of Peterson’s clinics at Berklee prior to his professorship; the drummer taught bassist Luques Curtis and played in the senior recital of his brother, pianist Zaccai Curtis.

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