March 18, 2001
By Lloyd Sachs
2 Pianists tap into
sense of spirituality
In presenting the
double bill of Randy Weston and Chucho Valdes on Friday, Symphony Center
offered not only two of the most powerful, percussive pianists alive - and
two of the tallest - but also two of the most joyous. An infectious
sense of spiritual enlightenment runs through their music, which through
their captivating African or Afro-Cuban rhythms keeps your body moving
even as it calms and cleanses your soul.
Jazz has never known a master builder quite like Weston. Opening the show
unaccompanied, he laid down a simple, bubbly, blues-tinged riff, which was
expounded on by the first-rate members of his
African Rhythms quintet, including alto saxophonist
Talib Kibwe and trombonist
When they were joined by the Master Gnawa Musicians of Morocco, composed
of six traditional black players from Tangier and Marrakech, the music was
carried to a higher level on waves of percussion (mainly clacking,
Through the application of insinuating rhythms picked up during a stint in
Morocco and pop-folk melodies picked up during his travels to West Africa,
the Brooklyn-born Weston slowly created a tingling sense of anticipation.
What was remarkable was that in playing the tension-and-release game, the
music satisfied without ever reaching the latter stage. Its power
lay in its atmosphere and Weston's masterly sense of restraint.
For a pianist who imparts such rich, darkly resounding chords, he has a
surpassing light touch. Adding off-angles and splinters of
dissonance drawn from one of his idols, Thelonious Monk, and color-rich
percussive touches inspired by his other hero, Duke Ellington, he
underscored the tension between light and dark.
Making a neat connection between American and African spirituality, the
urbane-toned Powell quoted from "Wade in the Water." In groups of three,
the Moroccans chanted and danced in the spotlight, finding transcendence
in simplicity as they built rhythms atop a stringed instrument that played
the dual role of bass and drum.
Reprinted with permission Copyright (c) 2006
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