Randy Weston African Rhythms
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recorded  20 > 22 May 1991  
New York  USA
CD   1992    Verve    511 857-2    2 CD set

| real | wm |  

liner notes

Randy Weston piano  (not on 4)
Idrees Sulieman
trumpet  (on 2,3,5,6,7,9)
Dizzy Gillespie
trumpet  (on 9)
Benny Powell trombone  (on 2,3,5,6,7,9)
Talib Kibwe flute, alt sax  (on 2,5,6,7,9)
Billy Harper
tenor sax  (on 2,3,5,6,7,9)
Dewey Redman
tenor sax  (on 2,3,5,6,7,9)
Pharoah Sanders
tenor sax, gaita  (on 3 >8)
Alex Blake
bass  (on 2,3,5,6,7,8,9)
Jamil Nasser
bass  (on 2,3,4,5,6,8,9)
Idris Muhammad
drums  (on 2,3,5,6,7,8,9)
Azzedin Weston
percussion  (on 2,3,4,6,9)
Big Black
percussion  (on 3,5,6,7,8,9)
Yassir Chadly
percussion, karkaba, vocal  (on 4 >8)

Randy Weston
arranger, producer, liner notes
Rhashidah E. McNeill 
Liner notes

Yassir Chadly
Melba Liston arranger
Jean-Philippe Allard
Brian Bacchus
Talib Kibwe
musical director
Jay Newland
Joe Lopes assistant
Cheung Ching Ming
Daniel Richard
release preparation

CD 1
  1   African Village Bedford-Stuyvesant  (Weston)
  2   The Healers
  3   African Cookbook
  4   La Elaha-Ella Allah / Morad Allah
  5   The Call

CD 2
  6   African Village Bedford-Stuyvesant 2  (Weston)
  7   The Seventh Queen
  8   Blue Moses
  9   African Sunrise
  A Prayer for us all  (Weston)


THE SPIRITS OF OUR ANCESTORS comes on the heels of pianist /composer, Randy Weston's earlier trilogy of tributes, "Portraits," which was released in 1990 (
Verve, PolyGram Jazz). By sheer determination, extraordinary musicianship. and the vision of Randy Weston, co-producers, Jean-Philippe Allard (PolyGram) and Brian Bacchus (Antilles/Island) and supporters like Jacques Muyal, "Spirits" takes its place, like a final chapter or climax in the unwinding tale of a long journey.

Randy Weston, ”Spirit’” master storyteller, has been unwinding this tale for over 35 years now. His never tiring listeners are in for the biggest treat of all. "Spirits" is the tale to end all other tales of how the music began and where It all comes from. "Spirits" is where you'll find the real gems  -no cubic zirconias here-- from the cast of all-star musicians. including guest artist, Dizzy Gillespie: drummers, Big Black, Idris Muhammad, Azzedin Weston; bassists, Jamil Nasser, Alex Blake; guest artist, Pharoah Sanders; the horn section, Idrees Sulieman. Talib Kibwe, Billy Harper. Benny Powell, Dewey Redman; and Gnawa musician. Yassir Chadly to "Spirits"' formidable composer/arranger male/female team, Randy Weston and Melba Liston.

This is an important and exciting reunion for arranger.
Melba Liston, especially. On this recording she reconnects with composer/pianist Randy Weston and with Dizzy Gillespie.

For her and Randy, this is their first musical collaboration on a recording since Melba suffered a stroke in the mid-80's, paralyzing her right side. Miraculously. she has created these brilliant, awesome arrangements for "Spirits" via computer music programming, proving her courageousness. and diligence as an artist. Two other reissues that Randy and Melba collaborated on "Uhuru Afrika" and "Highlife" have both become classics.

In fact, as pointed out by jazz critic, Stanley Crouch, Randy Weston and
Melba Liston may be the second longest lasting male-female composer/arranger team since Andy Kirk and Mary Lou Williams!
Also, it was a true delight for Melba to hook up again with Dizzy (and he with her). While Dizzy was playing his solo rendition on African Sunrise, a composition originally written for him by Randy years ago, Melba couldn't restrain her joy as the master trumpeter's frivolous notes commingled with her effusion of elated giggles. It was her way of showing her approval and her respect for this genius at work.

Ironically, though, her and Dizzy's relationship goes all the way back to the 40's and 50's when she became the first woman to break into the all-male horn sections of name bands -Gerald Wilson's, Count Basie's, Quincy Jones', and of course, Dizzy Gillespie's as a female trombonist, while simultaneously making a name for herself as a noteworthy composer/arranger.

In 1958, she recorded her first album as a leader, "Melba Liston and Her Bones"
(Metro jazz (S) 1013) flanked by six other trombonists. Her repertoire also includes work with Clark Terry, Billie Holiday, Billy Eckstine, Motown Records and others. She has also been instructor at Pratt Institute, New York, as well as director for 5˝ years of African-American Music at the University of Jamaica.

THE SPIRITS OF OUR ANCESTORS, like "Portraits" pays homage to our musical predecessors. However, any further similarity is spare. Listeners are treated to yet another episode of rapture sans boring repetitiousness. Creativity flourishes on this recording like rain in a rain forest. While "Portraits" were dedicated tributes to specific mentors, "Spirits" pays homage to the global contributions of our Afrikan ancestors on whose shoulders we stand, no matter what we do or what we create. We have a debt that we owe because of those who came before us. "Spirits" also celebrates the universal magic of the musical language -one that transcends race, color, nationality- one that speaks to and is understood by the human spirit!  "Spirits" acknowledges that through music we can truly become one, if only for a moment.

Originally, THE SPIRITS OF OUR ANCESTORS. was to be a culmination of Randy's experiences culturally and musically, at least in part, in Morocco. Randy and his co-producers had planned to record on location in Morocco, with the Gnawa healer-musicians but. the occurrence of the Gulf War, early in 1991, discouraged the idea.
It was the essence of what this recording meant, however, that kept Randy's creative juices potent. in spite of the obstacles, and so he and his fellow producers of "Spirits" began improvising. Randy. Brian and Jean-Philippe decided the idea could still work in New York studios.

THE SPIRITS OF OUR ANCESTORS was partially supposed to be a collaboration with the Gnawa musicians, the Black healers of Morocco brought there hundreds of years ago from Sub-Sahara Africa.

Randy wanted to capture the authentic, traditional sounds and rhythms of the Gnawa. He had lived with and learned from the masters of this traditional Moroccan group for more than 20 years. resulting in his being strongly influenced, as a composer, by the music of the Gnawa.

Because of this exposure to the culture and music of the Gnawa, Randy has written and performed several compositions permeated by the Gnawa rhythm and mysticism including Blue Moses, an adaptation of a traditional Gnawa spiritual; also, The Healers, Tanjah, Ganawa in Paris, and others.

The concept of "Spirits" has since been broadened and brought to life by the fourteen musicians extraordinaire! Although Weston fans will recognize the names, and/or the rhythms to some or even most of the tunes. none of the songs on this recording have ever been heard or played like this. And the key here is Melba Liston's fresh, unpredictable. piercing arrangements. She is able to achieve raw emotion and rare beauty, a powerful complement to the sheer force and flurry of Randy Weston's compositions. Her arrangements challenged the best of these musicians to higher heights. For them it was no easy task.

Sometimes, it was even frustrating as each tried, repeatedly, to play unfamiliar notes to perfection. Yet, the final outcome was worth the exhaustion. Each weary musician dragged himself out of the studio smiling and shaking his head in wonder at the genius of this woman. She had put them all to the test. And yet, they were grateful for the opportunity to purge themselves; to not only play good music, but great music!

Rhashidah E. McNeill


African Village Bedford-Stuyvesant is that part of Brooklyn where I grew up as a boy. It was the most popular part because that's where most of the clubs were, the ballrooms. I lived there. That's where my father's restaurant/luncheonette was in that area. So this song is just a description of that special community of Black people from different parts of the world--from the Caribbean, from the southern part of the United States, from the West. For me it was like an African village despite the fact that it was located in Brooklyn, New York.

The Healers In this song you have power, mysticism, simplicity, gentility. This song evokes Images of ancient Egypt and Kush during their most majestic times.

African Cookbook represents the diversity of African music and African people, the potpourri of sounds and rhythms that we produce, the different cultures, foods, arts that African people live in, cook, and create. You can hear this diversity when you listen to each of the solos of the musicians playing on this song. Each one has his own expression.

La Elaha-Ella Allah / Morad Allah of the songs of the Gnawa are about God (Allah) and prayer. They're songs for spiritual and positive upliftment and evolution. On this song Yassir Chadly does vocals for a song of the traditional Gnawa playing guembri, the karkaba, and hand claps in the traditional Gnawa rhythm. Jamil Nasser plays the same bass line as the guembri, accompanied by Azzedin Weston on karkaba.

The Call One day all the Black and Brown people of Afrika will hear this melody and they'll all come and gather and come home -to Mother Afrika. Melba did a tremendous arrangement on this song; in fact, this may be my favorite arrangement. She really captured the power. The rhythm that Big Black plays here is called the Bata rhythm, a Yoruba rhythm -the beat of the heart, a very spiritual, basic rhythm.

The Seventh Queen This song is an Afrikan blues but also represents the blues everywhere.

Blue Moses This song Is an adaptation of a Gnawa spiritual. The Gnawa believe that every person has a color and a note. Blue happens to be the color of the saint of whom this song is about, thus. Blue Moses. Blue is also the color that I responded to at a Gnawa ceremony. Pharoah Sanders. guest artist. enhances the song's mystical quality with his own brand of magic.

African Sunrise This Is a composition that I wrote originally for Dizzy Gillespie. It's about the spiritual rise and evolution of Afrikan people to a global society. This song has a Latin/Afrikan beat and the reason for that is. it was written for Dizzy with Machito's band. in mind. Dizzy played such a major role in introducing Cuban music into jazz. Machito's band was Cuban. But it's still an Afrikan rhythm. This song also reminds me of the huge, orange and red sun I used to see rising about 5:30 in the mornings in Tangier, when I lived in Morocco. That's part of it, too.

A Prayer for us all This composition was written as the last part of a suite in the 70's. It simply means that no matter how much we plan, how much we strategize, no matter how much we try to get It together we really need to have a prayer. It's a prayer for all humanity and everything that is confronting us.

1991  by Randy Weston as told to Rhashidah E. McNeill

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