Randy Weston: piano, Alex Blake: bass, Neil Clarke: drums
1. Blue Moses
2. African Sunrise
3. Berkshire Blues
4. Route of The Nile
5. Ballad For T
6. Portrait Of Frank Edward Weston
7. High Fly
9. The Healers
10. Love, The Mystery Of
The recent release of Randy Weston’s CD “Zep Tepi” coincided with the 80th birthday of the venerable legend of piano jazz. I love hearing Randy Weston and his music. In part, his many contributions to the jazz experience can be traced to the mentoring of his father, Frank Edward Weston, who taught his talented son that he was an African-American, but was “indeed an African”.
Randy’s compositions and playing bear the exotic colorations of the African culture that gave jazz life – its rhythms, its tonal shapes, its expression of the human soul through its spiritual journey along the emotional roads of daily turmoil and existence, through the universal opposing states of happiness and travail, birth and death, achievement and failure. Here is a CD that speaks the language of experience and life – it communicates wordlessly and hypnotically taking the listener through a joyous litany of sounds and pulses – orchestral sounds and evocations created within the context of a trio.
And what a trio this is: Randy Weston on piano, Alex Blake on acoustic bass, and Neil Clarke on African percussion. The group performances meld both spontaneous musical creation as well as structured harmonic and melodic content allowing the music to take on an unfettered quality that has enormous life – like a mini odyssey through both charted and uncharted waters.
“Blue Moses” is Randy’s tribute to the music of the Gnawa people of Morocco. Based upon an E minor tonality, it is an extended narrative composition with deep beauty. Here, as on all of the trio tracks, one must appreciate the talents of Mr. Blake and Mr. Clarke who are vital contributory instrumental voices within the body of the performances. Alex Blake is Panamanian born but raised in Brooklyn. His credits include performances with the Sun Ra Arkestra, Dizzy Gillespie, McCoy Tyner, Freddy Hubbard, and others. Neil Clarke is a native of Brooklyn and has worked with a stellar array of talent as well: Harry Belafonte, Onaje Allen Gumbs, Dianne Reeves, David Sanborn to list a few.
“African Sunrise” starts with an extended harmonically rich rubato piano intro that moves within a complex progression -- F#-7(b5) to F-7 Bb7 Ebmaj(lyd) Ab7(sus4) Dbmaj7 to Cmaj7 -- with variations, then followed by bass and percussion in a pulsing tempo over a C pedal. At that point, the piano lines flirt with the lowered third of the tonal center, Eb, as well as an E natural/Db melodic fragment (harmonic minor scale interval) and are superimposed over the pedal point along with the perennial and all important lowered 5th. This piece is extended so that all of the harmonic, melodic, rhythmic, and dynamic variations are wrung out it of with no creative avenue left unexplored. The group modulates to F for a “Night and Day” harmonic progression.
“Berkshire Blues”, a 3/4 entry in C, and the harmonically inventive “Route of the Nile” are performed by the trio (with a rubato piano statement) and solo piano respectively. Another solo piano entry, “Ballad for T” (for Thelonius), has me thinking not only of Monk but Bud Powell, Phineas Newborn, Billy Strayhorn, Duke Ellington, and some others coming through the keyboard here. This type of playing is a lost art (you better believe that – it is gone, gone, gone) and a thing of beauty. But it is still unmistakably Randy Weston’s unique style – so delicate yet forceful and harmonically and melodically incisive while covering the entire piano keyboard. His style of playing has undoubtedly influenced many a pianist.
Randy’s compositional tribute to his father “Portrait of Frank Edward Weston” is an up tempo romp in C minor which features a classic progression, C minor D7 G7 with a samba-latin feel. The bridge has a chordal move to a Gb7 with a whole tone sound and a transition back to the C minor tonality. “High Fly” is the other Randy Weston classic on the CD – a great composition and one which is so readily identifiable with the Weston sound.
“Tamahil”, which signifies soul or spirit in Japanese, provides yet more color. The key of A major and a treble oriented theme serves as a bright contrast to the preceding material. Listen to Neil Clarke’s clever percussive offerings; he takes the piece out with a creative conclusion in solo fashion. “The Healers”, in Randy’s words, is a dedication to “the very people who started music in the first place”. It starts with a probing piano intro off of an E minor sound, and is joined by bass and percussion. What is so refreshing about this CD is the perceptible difference between each track in tonal coloration, harmonic motion, melodic content, and rhythmic development; like telling a story with a beginning, middle, and end. I also like the longer gaps between the tracks which allow the music to “settle” and the listener to clear aural memory in preparation for the next composition.
The only non-Weston entry is the last track: “Love, The Mystery Of”. It features a Randy Weston rubato intro which sparkles and is a perfect prologue to the piece. It features a Db to Cb progression in 3/4 time. There are overdubbed vocals on this which really conjure up an African sound.
I thoroughly enjoyed listening to this CD. Honestly, I have not heard Randy Weston for a long time so that it was a distinct pleasure to experience the sounds of this one-of-a-kind master musician. One can only hope he continues to contribute his unique style of playing and composition to the sounds of the jazz universe for a good, long, time.