Randy Weston plays a planet that is shaped like a piano.
Jazz is its global language and rhythm the required guidebook to
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
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
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
To Stroman’s spirit, she stated, “You’ve just got a change of
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
good,” and “I think the bass man is possessed” led into
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
“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
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
GEORGE EDWARD TAIT
Name: NEW YORK AMSTERDAM NEWS