Thursday, January 27, 2011

Randy Weston: The Storyteller

Motema Music
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: The Storyteller

Pianist/composer Randy Weston is an 84-year-old jazz icon. He has performed his African-inspired jazz worldwide for more than five decades, and on almost 50 albums as a leader.

This release, recorded live at Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola, features his African Rhythms Sextet: a group that included another icon, trombonist Benny Powell, who died not long after this session.

Weston, who was born in Brooklyn in 1926, was among the many musicians who played a key role in the New York City jazz scene in the era that covered the 1930s through the '50s. He then traveled throughout Africa during the 1960s, opened a club in Morocco that existed from ’69 through ’72, and then returned to the States. From that point onward, his sound incorporated African elements and musicians.

Powell was making his bones during that same period, first playing with Lionel Hampton, then becoming a key part of Count Basie’s bands. Weston and Powell became and remained close friends throughout their careers.

This album contains elements of Weston’s life and career: "Chano Pozo" is a tribute to the percussionist who became a featured contributor to Dizzy Gillespie’s Latin jazz period; "African Sunrise" was commissioned for the 1984 Chicago Jazz Festival; "Tehuti," "Jus’ Blues" and "The Bridge" comprise his African Cookbook Suite; and "The Shrine" is one of his most recent compositions. The remaining tracks relate to work he did during the 1950s.

This is a wonderful, swinging, compilation of jazz by one of the industry giants (in more ways than one­; he stands 6 feet 7 inches!).

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