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Art-Alive.com

 
 

 
RANDY WESTON THRILLS THEM AT THE BROOKLYN CONSERVATORY
 

     Randy Weston plays a planet that is shaped like a piano.  Jazz is its global language and rhythm the required guidebook to proper usage.  Its topography consists of cultural keys of consciousness in a continuous climate of creativity manifesting a soundscape of splendor.  Love is its daily harvest and joy the principle crop.  Spirit serves as its medium of exchange.  It is ruled by ancestral law through the government of tradition and a council of elders co-chaired by Ellington and Monk.  The planet is called Africa.

     It might as well have been Saturday night in Senegal instead of the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music where the regal Randy Weston and his “African Rhythms” rocked the evening into euphoria.  With a quintessential quartet of collective genius, Weston powered through a program packaged as “A Spiritual Tribute to Our Ancestors” and stunned the sold-out concert crowd with a presentation of African spirituality, peerless musicality, historical significance, and pure joy.

     The quartet featured Talib Kibwe on alto and soprano saxophones and flute, Weston on piano, Alex Blake on bass, and Neil Clarke on African percussion.  Each musician exhibited such exceptional mastery that they had the collective effect of a big band.  It was as if Kibwe was a woodwind section, Weston a piano choir, Blake a string ensemble, and Clarke an entire group of       African drummers.  Moreover, they each played like a one-man band in collaborative concert, successfully channeling their superior skills of individuality into a single and spectacular sound.

     The program also featured the legendary and beautiful Black Rose whom Nigeria once named “the goddess of Africa.”  Black Rose contributed narrative introductions and interludes of noteworthy dialogue in addition to being showcased on one of Weston’s most celebrated compositions.

     The first half of the event paid tribute to three ancestors: drummer and dancer C. Scobey Stroman, Drummer Willie Jones, and bassist and oud player Ahmed Abdul Malik.  It officially opened with an original D major work by Weston entitled “Loose Wig,” an affectionate appellation referring to the engagingly eccentric behavior exhibited by childhood friend C. Scobey Stroman with whom Weston one attended dance classes.  In Black Rose’s inspired introduction to the composition, she commented, “We don’t mourn; we praise, we sing, we dance, we poetize.”  To Stroman’s spirit, she stated, “You’ve just got a change of address.”  Then in an artist/audience call-and-response ceremony, she concluded, “Scobey, Scobey, Scobey, we celebrate your life today.”

     The music that followed continued the ceremony.  Weston’s “Loose Wig” musical libation launched the evening into spiritual orbit.  Inspiration and intensity stormed the stage and swirled around visiting and collaborating with each soloist.  Weston was fiery on piano, Kibwe fierce on alto, and Blake ferocious on base.  In fact, “I” and “I’ had such an extended and effective visit with Blake that he became a man possessed.  The composition ended with a Weston and Clarke festival of rhythm.

     The next composition, dedicated to ancestor Willie Jones, was the three-quarter time, G-minor classic “Little Niles” written for Weston’s son which Jones always encouraged Weston to play.  For this tune, Kibwe converted his alto into a blowtorch and set the chords on fire with the flames audible to everyone’s ears and the force visible to the third eye.  Then, Weston wielded his magic five-fingered  wands of waltz wizardry while simultaneously spotlighting the swing pulse of stride piano superimposed on the enchanting essence of “Epistrophy.”  Blake followed unaccompanied but not alone.  Inspiration and intensity were with him in full force as he functioned in finger-strumming, foot-stomping, and fire-speaking while working his way into soaring states beyond the senses.

     The next tune, “Tanjah,” was a tribute to Ahmed Abdul Malik who as a childhood friend introduced Weston to the music of North Africa.  Weston commenced this E minor piece with shimmering cascades of sun-drenched chords while Kibwe summoned his soprano sax to transmit the tonality of North Africa.

     The D minor ditty “Niger Mambo,” which closed out the first half of the program, was penned by Nigerian composer Bobby Benson and featured Neil Clarke in a soul shaking solo.  Crowd commentary of “This thing is 

Too good,” and “I think the bass man is possessed” led into intermission.

     The second half of the program commenced with Weston paying tribute to Dizzy Gillespie with a solo piano compilation of four Gillespie compositions: “A Night In Tunisia,” “Con Alma,” “Woody ‘n’ You,” and “Tin Tin Deo” which was a whirlwind vehicle for Weston’s virtuousity.

     “African Cookbook,” another classic by Weston, featured Black Rose is the narrative – who greeted everyone in Kiswahili, Yoruba, Akan, and Zulu and related a riveting reflection on the universal impact of African music, proclaiming that the “cultural invention of African music inspired all music.”  In her speech, there was music; in her movement, there was dance.

     The final two selections were also Weston originals: “The Healers” in A-minor and “Blue Moses” in E-minor.  “The Healers” had a dynamic drum solo by Clarke who chanted in Yoruba while the audience clapped in time and which motivated Senegalese dancer Salif Cisse to contribute an impromptu interpretation to the magic of the moment.

     “Blue Moses” was derived from the traditional music of Morocco’s Gnawa people.  Spiritual sounds dominated the solos and directed them into a display of depth and distillation.

     Weston who became 70 years young on April 6 is an elder of elegance, energy, and enlightenment.  His work defies his age as much as his wisdom defines it.  Weston’s words were both welder and wellspring of his work and worth: “Music is the sacred art; sculpture is music, poetry is music, architecture is music, dance is music.  Our music is totally in tune with nature.  Our heart is a drum; our voice is sound.  We are all musicians.  To be a master musician, you cannot tell a lie; music doesn’t lie.  What you call the different forms of music, if you take out the African elements, you have nothing.  All the music is Mother Africa sending its children all over the world.”

Author: GEORGE EDWARD TAIT

Publication Name: NEW YORK AMSTERDAM NEWS

Publication Date: 06-22-96

 
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