By Robert Fox
In January, I had the great privilege to see Randy Weston perform with his quintet at The Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. The legendary Brooklyn-born jazz pianist has spent a lifetime incorporating African rhythms into his music, and the show was one of the most moving performances I have ever seen.
Despite turning 80 this year, Weston was in top form. I was thrilled to hear him deliver an epic version of "Blue Moses" from the "Spirits of our Ancestors" album, one of my favorite recordings of all time. As Weston fans know, he spent his early career in the 1940s and 1950s mastering an innovative hard bop piano style along with contemporaries such as Thelonius Monk, then spent time in Nigeria in the early 1960s before moving to Morocco in 1968.
Since then he has released a string of African-influenced recordings that develop a highly individual rhythmic style with few parallels. One recent recording paired Weston with the Master Gnawa Musicians of Morocco, who perform live with him on "Spirit! The Power of the Music." Seeing Randy Weston was one of the absolute highlights of my musical experience--don't miss the rare opportunity if he comes your way.
I also can't resist pointing out that Weston performed with the incomparable Alex Blake on bass, who nearly stole the show with his uniquely percussive playing. Blake normally plays the stand-up bass while sitting down to better enable him to strum the strings, slap the body of the bass, stomp his feet, sing and generally carry on while simultaneously pounding out an intense and solid rhythm. Blake was born in Panama, and is one of the most creative and dynamic bass players anywhere, in my opinion. His recent live recording "Now Is The Time: Alex Blake Quintet Live at The Knitting Factory" is profound and worth seeking out (subject of a future post).
Randy Weston was also joined by Senegalese percussionist Abdou Mbop as well as the other members of his regular group: Neil Clark on drums and percussion (mostly no drumsticks, hands only!), Benny Powell on trombone and Talib Kweli on saxophones.
Check out the nice overview of Randy Weston from Down Beat Magazine, and also the overview and discography from the Europe Jazz Networks website. Randy Weston provided a thoughtful 2003 interview to All About Jazz on their website here.