NEW YORK–Drummer Ralph Peterson impressed mightily with his first extended stand as bandleader in New York at Sweet Basil last week.
Peterson’s Fo’tet (literally, fourtet) has unusual instrumentation–bass clarinet, vibes, bass and drums–that recalls the Eric Dolphy/Bobby Hutcherson collaboration 30 years ago. However, this high-energy music is an original.
Vibraphonist Bryan Carrot tended to dominate the group in intensity, notably during the quartet’s best blowing vehicle, “Urban Omen,” which he penned (featured on their current Blue Note CD “Ornettology”). Unlike the lyrical piano/vibes blend typifying groups led by George Shearing or Herbie Hancock, having a drummer in charge results here in equally percussive vibes work.
Soloist Don Byron seemed more comfortable and expansive soloing on clarinet than on bass clarinet, though the latter instrument (pioneered in jazz by the late Dolphy) provided the group’s distinctive ensemble sound.
Peterson exploited the bass/bass clarinet close duet during his own drum solos. Bassist Belden Bullock ably sustained a steady pulse while his three cohorts frequently shifted into free jazz intervals.
Opening set on opening night featured varied material, including the Billy Strayhorn theme “Johnny Come Lately” (played in intriguing stop-start fashion). Despite his emphasis on dynamics, Peterson had the men come on too strong, with a loud, frenetic approach proving inappropriate on Wayne Shorter’s lovely ballad “Iris” or Sammy Fain’s “I Can Dream, Can’t I.”
More gigs should allow this adventurous group to tone down its aggressive stance and make room for the potential beauty in vibes and clarinet playing.