Randy Weston and His African Rhythms Sextet
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Randy Weston and His African Rhythms Sextet
The Storyteller
Motema Music (motema.com)

Randy Weston has spent a lifetime studying African music. He was born in New York to Jamaican parents who encouraged him to embrace his African roots. In the 1960s he went to Africa as a cultural ambassador and stayed in Morocco for a few years, playing jazz and running a club in Casablanca. Now in his 80s and with some 40 records under his name, Randy Weston shows no sign of backing down in his quest for African rhythm.

Weston does a better job than most of making explicit connections between American jazz and African music. "African Sunrise" was written for Dizzy Gillespie who was known for popularizing Afro-Cuban jazz in the US. Weston recorded this album live at Dizzy's Club, a New York space named for Gillespie. The opening track, "Chano Pozo," is named for the Cuban conga player who brought his own Afro-Cuban influences to US in the 1940s. "Tehuti" is an ancient Egyptian deity of wisdom and knowledge, and the incredible closing track "Love, the Mystery Of" was composed by Ghanian drummer Guy Warren.

Rhythm plays an important role with all members of this band which includes both a traditional jazz drum set and second drummer on African percussion. Weston's playing is more percussive than many jazz pianists, and even the bass and horn players go through many passages where rhythm takes precedence over melody.

This isn't to say that African rhythms are the sole influence on this music. Weston and his band definitely come from the African-American jazz community; there's a whole lot of Thelonious Monk and Charles Mingus and Henry Threadgill in this music. Blues, which also has obvious African roots, plays a major role too; "Jus' Blues" is the second movement of Weston's "African Cookbook Suite." But there is an almost magical way in which Weston leads the band through jazz and the blues to find African roots at the heart of every note they play.

For Randy Weston, music is more than roots, more than rhythms, more than the family of musicians who play together. The final track of The Storyteller begins with these words of Weston spoken from the bandstand, and they provide an eloquent summation of this recording: "Music is really a healing, spiritual force, and with the right music you can feel good, you can go home and rest and imagine beautiful things." - Greg Harness

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"African Sunrise"

 

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