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THE ROOTS OF THE BLUES
recorded    Februari, 8th & 9th,  2013  
Avatar Studios, New York City, USA
CD  2013  Universal  374 742-3 / Sunnyside SSC 3097

RELEASE OCTOBER 2013 France - Universal

RELEASE NOVEMBER 19th 2013 USA - Sunnyside Records

| wm |

Press interview by Willard Jenkins >>

JJA Jazz Award - Music Categorie Duo of the Year 2014
Randy Weston & Billy Harper


Randy Weston piano (except 6)
Billy Harper tenor saxophone (except 11)

Jean-Philippe Allard
producer
Jay Newland engineer, mixing
Patrice Beauséjour cover painting

Liner notes: Willard Jenkins 

 

  1   Carnival (Weston)
  2   Blues to Senegal
(Weston)
  3   Berkshire Blues
(Kirk Roland / Weston)
  4   Body and Soul
(J. Green, E. Heyman, R. Sour)
  5   Congolese Children Song
(Weston)
  6   If One Could Only See
(Billy Harper)
  7   Blues to Africa
(Weston)
  8   How High the Moon
(N.Hamilton, M.William Lewis)
  9   Cleanhead Blues
(Weston)
10   Timbuktu
(Weston)
11   Roots of the Nile
(Weston)
12   Take the A Train (Billy Strayhorn)
13   The Healers (Weston)
14   Bonus Track - African Lady (Weston / Langston Hughes)

 


 Randy Weston "The Roots of the Blues"

The partnership of Randy Weston and Billy Harper dates back to the summer of '74 and Randy's first extended tour of Europe. This musical collaboration is based as much on their mutual love of the darker hues of their respective instruments as it is their blues simpatico. Their first recorded collaboration came at a Weston performance on July 5, 1974 in Switzerland. That edition of the Montreux Jazz Festival also featured Gil Evans, and the Art Ensemble of Chicago. From Gil's band Randy engaged Billy Harper to augment his trio, and did likewise with AEC drummer Don Moye. The result was released on the Freedom label and subsequently reissued by Arista Records.

Weston and Harper first met in 1972 when Randy produced an ambitious festival in Morocco's northernmost city, Tangier. Of the extraordinary cross-section of artists invited from Africa and the West, the Max Roach Quartet was one of the headliners. The band members made the flight to Tangier – including Billy Harper, Cecil Bridgewater and bassist Jooney Booth; for reasons that still mystify Weston, his Brooklyn homeboy Max Roach did not make the flight. "When the event started there was still no Max," Harper remembers, "so I played drums a bit – behind Dexter Gordon and also Hubert Laws."

Weston and Harper bonded instantly after playing together in Tangier. "I heard the sound that I like," recalls Weston, "that Texas sound, and being from Texas Billy is a great blues player. When Billy plays the tenor it's like an orchestra – the call & response is always there, I always hear the black church in his playing, he's constantly singing through his horn. As far as why we work well together, it's the magic, that big, black sound he gets," exclaims Randy.

"Billy's sound comes straight out of Africa," continues Weston of the Houston, Texas tenor man who is of Somali ancestral lineage, "but it's a universal sound; that cry he gets in his sound, it reaches your soul. He plays that modern saxophone but it's very poetic. You listen to his solos and it's a complete composition, you hear the whole history of the tenor."

Weston's exceptional pianistic low-end theory is on vivid display on the striking original "Blues to Africa," whose title just about sums up Randy's philosophical outlook. Check the first few bars, illustrated by Weston's rumbling chords. "The lower register represents the earth, the elephant and the way the elephant strides inspires that lower register on "Blues to Africa." Indeed Weston's dark intro does conjure up images of the majestic pachyderm. "Maybe its because I'm big too," laughs Weston, "but it's the way elephants walk" that inspired those chords. "I love the sound of that lower piano register; and you get that only on the Bosendorfer," with its extra bass keys.

One reason this partnership succeeds from Weston's perspective is Randy's love of Billy Harper's ability to sustain a note and make it sing. That aspect of Harper's playing is on vivid display in the performance here of Weston's deeply spiritual homage "The Healers," particularly in Harper's opening statements. "That one is for our ancient ancestors who came out of the Nile Valley civilization," Weston explains. "They are the foundation of what we do today."

As with the great majority of Randy Weston's broad discography, ten of the fourteen tracks represented here are his originals, plus one Harper contribution. Atypical is the inclusion of three standards, "Body & Soul," "How High the Moon," and "Take the A Train." But if you know Randy Weston you know there's a deeper meaning behind each of these classics. In the case of "Body & Soul" it's all about youthful joys. When Coleman Hawkins cut his classic rendition of the timeless piece in 1939, miraculously invoking the melody without ever directly stating it, it became an all-time hit; just ask anybody on Randy's street in Brooklyn back then. At 13, the piece so captivated him that he begged an allowance advance and purchased 3 copies of the recording, wrapped two in cellophane and squirreled them away under his bed for safe keeping, laid the third copy on the family record player, threw open the windows and blasted the immortal Hawkins out into the street for all to enjoy. For this performance, "what I do is in the beginning play a melody based on the bridge of the piece, which I call Soul and Body, before Billy comes in," Weston informs.

"How High the Moon" was grits & gravy for the bebop generation of the 40s and 50s. "It was the first piece I heard Lucky Thompson play and I loved it," Randy fondly recalls of the late, under-recognized saxophone master. "I played with Lucky once in Brooklyn; what an honor!"

Essential to understanding Randy Weston's artistry is the significant role of Duke Ellington. Besides Duke's obvious cultural role in shaping so many musicians of Weston's generation, Ellington's piano style is at the root of Randy's technique. After Randy returned from Morocco in the early 70s, he came under the Ellington umbrella when Duke took a liking to Weston's playing. At the encouragement of sister Ruth Ellington, Duke arranged to record Randy for his short-lived record label (later reissued by Arista as Blues to Freedom). Ellington's theme song also bears a practical importance to Weston. "Coming up in Brooklyn the A train gave us the opportunity to get to Manhattan more directly, and it was written by one of my idols, Billy Strayhorn. Like the old blues players, Billy tried to capture the sound of the train with that piece," a sound aptly depicted by Weston's chugging intro chords, what writer Albert Murray dubbed "railroad onomatopoeia."

"Congolese Children," which first appeared on record on the 1963 Highlife album, was inspired by Weston's fruitful, artistically formative years in the Berkshires, playing at the legendary Music Inn among other mountain resorts. "Some of my early listening to African music came up in the Berkshires. I heard some music from the region around Lake Kivu in the Congo. That's when I began to incorporate rhythms and harmonies of Africa in my music."

"Blues to Senegal" and "Carnival" were also motivated by sojourns to the Motherland. The former inspired by a 1967 tour stop in Dakar; "I heard master drummer Dou Dou N'Diaye Rose, and my son Azzedine created a rhythm for this piece based on a Senegalese drum pattern that fit with this melody." "Carnival" is Randy's memory of visiting Nigerian multi-instrumentalist Bobby Benson's Lagos club Caban Bamboo.

Randy's influential dad, Frank Edward Weston, was a Garvey-ite who encouraged his young son's immersion in Africa, inspiring the Weston-Harper exploration of "Timbuktu." "My father talked about Timbuktu as one of the great ancient civilizations and I always wanted to visit there. This piece is a combination of a prayer and the greatness of Timbuktu in the ancient times. The piece deals with sadness, love, history and dreams." Meanwhile "Roots of the Nile" musically depicts Weston's vivid imaginings of the dawn of the Nile Valley civilization. On this picturesque rendition Weston works his magic solo.

For his unaccompanied saxophone contribution to the date, Billy Harper chose the haunting "If One Could Only See," a Weston request . "This is a song that I played as a solo when Randy and I performed in duet recently in Kyoto, Japan at the Kamigamo Shrine," explains Harper. "This song was given to me in a dream. In that dream I was walking down Seventh Avenue in Manhattan and I was carrying an empty tape recorder. As I strolled along this humungous hand reached down from the heavens and there was a cassette tape in it. So I accepted the tape, placed it in the empty cassette player… and one of the most beautiful melodies was played. I woke up immediately and played what I heard."

"Cleanhead Blues" is a nostalgic homage to one of Weston's early sideman stints. "I played two weeks with Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson up in Albany and it was quite an honor; not only was he a great blues singer, he was a great saxophonist as well," Weston recalls fondly.

The "bonus track" is an update of the lovely ballad "African Lady," the vocal highlight of Weston's crowning 1960 suite Uhuru Afrika, celebrating African independence from colonization. Hearing Randy and Billy discourse on this piece is deeply remindful of the unique relationship the original recording captured between the female voice of Martha Flowers and the male emoting of Brock Peters, paying homage to those sisters who inspired Weston's journey. At a compact 2:42 this rendition also characterizes Weston's intent to make complete statements and dialogues on this record almost in miniature compared to some of his more expansive recorded expressions. In myriad ways The Roots of the Blues marks a new hallmark in Randy Weston's distinguished 87-year odyssey on the planet, as a fervent seeker of African Rhythms.

Peace,
Willard Jenkins
www.openskyjazz.com - Home of The Independent Ear

 
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