By Willard Manus
It was a serendipitous experience for me to pick up a new CD release, EDWARD PETERSEN--UPWARD SPIRAL (Delmark). I had never heard of Petersen before and thus didn't know what to expect from this tenor sax player (even though his credits include stints with Clark Terry, Cedar Walton, Art Farmer and Ruth Brown). What a pleasant surprise it was, then, to discover what a major talent he is--not only a remarkable musician but a thoughtful and imaginative composer.
UPWARD SPIRAL is actually the re-issue of a CD first released in 1990. The first four of its nine tracks were recorded live at the Green Mill in Chicago, where Petersen led the house band for three years. The other five were recorded in a studio, but the same personnel took part in both events: Peterson, Fareed Haque (guitar), Brad Williams (piano), Rob Amster (bass) and Jeff Stitely (drums). These five musicians make a lot of captivating music together, all of which was composed by Petersen, except for Richard Rodgers' I Didn't Know What Time It Was.
A key to the ideas behind Petersen's compositions can be found in the title tune, Upward Spiral, which Petersen wrote when his spiritual teacher, Master Kim, urged him to write something "that might help people to take a little time out of their busy schedules to consider the great thought of World Peace." The result was a 4 1/2-minute quiet, introspective piece which has an ethereal, haunting quality not often found in jazz. It also manages to be uplifting without being sappy in the usual New Agey way.
Although most of the other tunes on the disc reflect the same seriousness and delicacy of purpose, Petersen and his like-minded cohorts also show that they can swing and play with an edge, especially on the first cut, Probably, an eight-minute investigation of the roots of hard bop. Petersen and his pals love to mess around with time, melody and harmony, bending and blending them in new and fresh-sounding ways. Each and every band member is a virtuouso on his instrument.
Today Petersen can be found at the University of New Orleans, where he teaches jazz and fronts the Louis Armstrong Quintet. I can't wait to hear him again, either in person or on a new CD.