In African music."
Randy Weston observed in a 1998 interview, "there aren't the categories of
the past, the present and the future. Music is a timeless thing." He
proves it every time he touches a piano or puts pencil to composition
paper. Weston descends from a long line of seers who build on what the
ancestors left us to create music of startling originality music of the
future. This is why Ancient future (a title lovingly borrowed from Dr.
Wayne Chandler's new book Ancient Future: The Teachings and Prophetic
Wisdom of the Seven Hermetic Laws of Ancient Egypt) so perfectly defines
Weston's approach to music and life. Like Dr. Chandler's book, Weston's
music reveals the wisdom of the ancient world, where art. science, and
spirituality were one, where music was not entertainment-for-sale but a
life-force at the core of civilization itself. Weston demolishes
distinctions between traditional and modern, composition and
improvisation, enveloping us with what really counts: the music's
spiritual essence. And what better way to capture the spiritual dimensions
of this great music than Weston, in his solitude. singing. praying,
meditating. shouting, through the medium of Bösendorfer piano which he
transforms into a giant talking drum or a 97-stringed kora?
Ancient Future is a meditation on music's origins. " I thought
about Osiris," Weston recalled, "when he was assigned to teach man about
civilization and he used music to do it." Spare, contemplative, "Ancient
Future" is evocative of William Grant Still's "Africa" (A Poem for
Orchestra in Three Movements)" (1928).
Roots of the Nile and Kom Ombo were inspired by Weston's
recent travels to Southern Egypt, where the Nubians created a powerful
civilization that shaped much of Africa and the Western world. "Roots" is
a spiritual; each delicate line drifts over a rubato cadence with such
sheer melodic beauty it's as if every note were scored. "Kom Ombo," named
after a Nubian temple, paints a vivid image in 6/4 time: Weston's
left-hand is a rumbling, majestic drum chorus while his right hand is a
spirited circle of dancers.
Bambara known to many of us as the introduction to Weston's
composition "Blue Moses," is a musical history of the roots of the Gnawa
-descendants of slaves brought to Morocco by way of the Saharan trade. One
of the great city-states of the Mali Empire, Bambara was remembered as an
ancestral homeland for the Gnawa and a source of their rich sacred music.
Portrait of Oum Keltoum and Isis are beautiful meditations
written for great Egyptian women. When Weston first heard Keltoum sing in
Morocco in 1969, he was reminded of Mahalia Jackson.
Isis might be described as a prayer to this great goddess of
fertility; in little over two minutes, Weston distills thousands of years
of history into an elegant, soulful praise song.
Everything Weston plays is a praise song to the ancestors, especially his
musical predecessors. He has absorbed the spirits of all the great
"ticklers" -Duke, Art Tatum, Earl Hines, Nat Cole, Monk, all of them.
Ballad for T celebrates Monk-not just his music but his whole
personality. Weston never tries to play like Monk, but Monk's musical
spirit resounds in practically every note. He opens by paraphrasing the
first bar of Monk's virtually forgotten song, "Sixteen," and proceeds to
create an intimate portrait of a great artist who embodies the passion and
humor of his music.
Likewise, listen to Blues for CB and you'll feel how Count Basie
swung his piano and the whole band. Ellington is everywhere, in Weston's
extremely funky two-fisted, foot-stomping interpretation of "It Don't
Mean a Thing" Part 1 reminds us of Duke's roots in the blues,
evoking his piano style with those rolling fifths in the bass, while Part
2 pays tribute to Jimmy Blanton on the left hand, and the orchestra's
tremendous horn section on the right. Here Weston makes more music in less
than a minute and a half than many cats make in an hour. In between "Double
Duke" Weston plays a warm, poetic rendition of Benny Golson's "Out
of the Past," a fitting homage to a composer who deserves a lot more
"Sketch of Melba" was written for Weston's long-time collaborator
Melba Liston -master arranger, composer, and trombonist. The beautiful
musical relationship they established compares with that of Ellington and
Strayhorn. The lush voicings Liston brought to Weston's magnificent
melodies are captured so tenderly in "Sketch for Melba"; it deserves a
place alongside the great ballads: Strayhorn's "Lush Life," Thad Jones's
"A Child is Born," Monk's "Crepuscule with Nellie," and Johnny Green's
Body and Soul"
Speaking of Body and Soul, Weston's virtuoso performance of that
classic song deserves an entire essay. Delivering a fresh, innovative take
on one of the most recorded songs in history is not an easy task. Louis
Armstrong, Chu Berry, Roy Eldridge, Jimmy Blanton and Ellington, Charlie
Parker, Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Tatum, Teddy Wilson, Nat Cole, Monk, and
of course the incomparable Coleman Hawkins, each recorded Body and Soul
and changed the music forever. Weston took the challenge and gave us a
rendering that will be studied for years to come. Like Hawkins's legendary
1939 recording, Weston never fully states the melody but you hear it
throughout. Following an absolutely stunning rubato introduction, each
whispering phrase builds perfectly on the previous phrase, eventually
slipping into a lovely waltz- a meter Weston has mastered. He plays with
such spiritual conviction that he succeeds in turning a torch song into a
church song. And he is humbled by the implications: "dig the title of that
song: Body and Soul. Deep."
PCN (which stands for Panama. Cuba, Nigeria) is not the last cut on
the CD but for me it completes the circle, the Ancient and the Future. It
represents the global movements of African rhythms, the birth place of his
father Frank Weston (Panama), the land where Randy first felt African soil
(Nigeria), the lands tied together by Yoruba culture (Cuba-Nigeria), the
lands where African Rhythms meet and mingle. Listen to Chano Pozo and
James P. Johnson do the ring shout in the left hand, or Dizzy's high life
notes in the right hand. Listen to both hands and you'll hear the fertile
imagination of Randy Weston, brilliant pianist, composer, teacher, and
medium for the ancestor... our ear to the past, our voice for the future.
2002 Robin D. G. Kelley