Randy Weston, The Storyteller
A fitting circle for one who pays such profound heed to his ancestral spirits
This live album, recorded when Weston was 84, has the comprehensive scope of a career summation. There is a dreamy, almost Euro-classical rendition of his most popular song, "Hi Fly" from 1958, which segues into the rangy African spunk of its original incarnation, here titled "Fly Hi." There is the Afro-Cuban "African Sunrise," a 1984 commission from the Chicago Jazz Festival that has Weston paying tribute to Dizzy Gillespie (check the "Night in Tunisia" interpolation) and Machito, preceded by Weston's solo piano tribute to Gillespie's legendary percussionist, "Chano Pozo." There is "The African Cookbook Suite" from 1964, broken down into another solo piano number, "Tehuti" (an Egyptian deity); a long and tremendous "Jus Blues" that has Weston rumbling over drums and percussion and Lewis Nash delivering a brisk but rugged drum solo on brushes; and a concluding bass solo and vocal accompaniment by Alex Blake, entitled "The Bridge," that is both funky and innovative.
There is "Loose Wig," Weston's overt homage in 1956 to the early influence of Thelonious Monk, performed with a tricky yet deft blend of madcap glee and well-camouflaged ensemble discipline, featuring Blake's fat-toned, hand-jive rhythm, stylishly sassy horns (including Weston's now-late, longtime trombonist, Benny Powell, in his final recording), and, most of all, Weston skittering, spare, angular Monkisms. As with "Hi Fly" and "Fly Hi," a slightly twisted version, entitled "Wig Loose," immediately follows. "The Shrine" is a slow, gentle blues from 1998, with T.K. Blue on flute and sax and another rich solo provided by Powell before Weston gets thick, and even slower, in a mesh with Blake's bass. And there is the lone cover tune, the concluding "Love, The Mystery Of," written in 1958 by the Ghanaian drummer, Guy Warren, with more flute and spoken-word vocals.
The Storyteller is Weston's first new record in more than four years. If it turns out to be his last, then this ending will make an excellent beginning for the uninitiated — a fitting circle for one who pays such profound heed to his ancestral spirits.