Randy Weston African Rhythms: Saga

Gitanes Jazz Verve 529237-2

©Laurence Svirchev

Randy Weston is a master pianist-composer whose left hand surges with the rhythmic power of the Nile River. His right hand glistens the key-board with both Ellingtonian love calls and Monkish dissonances. Weston has based his work for many years on an intense study of African music, particularly the music of Gnawa spiritual healers. Consequently, this CD transmits a sense of infectious joy propelled by lively humor and spiritual reflection.

According to the liner notes, Saga means “African Family” in the Wolof language. The CD opens with a romantic “The Beauty of It All”, a quartet ballad with the feel of a warm welcome home from comforting kinfolk. The second title, Loose Wig, opens with that jaunty desert camel-ride bass line and percussion rhythm that is a Weston signature.

“The Three Pyramids” and “the Sphynx” is an intriguing meditation containing seemingly simple piano, bass and percussion lines. The trance devolves into delightful cacophony of rhythmic counterpoint between bass and percussion, suggesting the boiling turmoil that results from a prolonged search for spiritual and intellectual enlightenment. The pianist then resolves the conflict with a clarion return to the basic theme.

Weston’s use of different formulations of the seven listed musicians makes for a varied listening experience. In addition to the above-mentioned groupings, there is a sublime “Uncle Neemo” duet between Weston and drummer Billy Higgins, several solo piano pieces, and full septet numbers. With Saga, Randy Weston continues to be one of the most profound musicians on the contemporary scene. He is seventy years old.

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