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When he was the artist known as Talib Qadir Kibwe, T.K. Blue spent a good many years as Randy Weston's musical director, and he performed on some of Weston's now-classic recordings with Melba Liston like The Spirits Of Our Ancestors and Volcano Blues. Previously, Kibwe lived in Paris for eight years after a three-year association with Abdullah Ibrahim in the late 1970's. Journeying to Africa from his Paris base throughout the 1980's, Kibwe delved deeper and deeper into the spiritual basis for his music.
Now, T.K. Blue has pulled together all of those influences on Eyes Of The Elders. His insights into the communicative potential of African percussion combines with Weston's profound belief in honoring the wisdom of one's forebears. T.K. Blue expresses the resulting synthesis more brightly than Weston did in some of his blues and 6/8 prayer-like meditations. Concentrating on melody and the joyous magnetism of festivities and celebrations, T.K. Blue has developed a vibrant voice of his own that communicates ancestral connections to a contemporary audience.
Eyes Of The Elders retains some of the elements from T.K. Blue's first release on Arkadia Jazz, Another Blue. His friend and pianist James Weidman reappears on several of the tracks, and Blue's instrumentation remain similar, that instrumentation including reeds, trumpet, piano, bass, drums and percussion.
The brilliant addition to Eyes Of The Elders is Stefon Harris on vibes and marimba, creating a haunting shimmer and percolation that amplifies the thematic music's rhythmic and subtle harmonic sophistication. The tune "Rites Of Passage" distills the music to include only Blue on kalimba and Harris on marimba, as they expand the initial rhythmic lines into a freed percussive conversation from struck bars. Harris lends a glow to "Frozen Mist," a Hale Smith tune that is reminiscent of the transcendent emotional weight of Billy Strayhorn's "Blood Count."
Joanne Brackeen, another unpredictable Arkadia artist, joins in on "Frozen Mist" to complete the slowly unfolding impressionistic depiction of the title's visual experience. Fulfilling the potential of Blue's composition honoring the "strength of womanhood," Brackeen breaks loose in a fully developed and confident flowing solo after Blue's statement on C-melody flute.
But that's not all. Blue recruited his musicians wisely so that their musical personalities are appropriate for the tunes at hand. Thus, pianist Eric Reed accompanies Blue on "Harold's Theme," Charles Mingus' "Nostalgia In Times Square" and John Coltrane's "Wise One." Reed lets fly with a dramatic solo on "Wise One," utilizing the entire keyboard in thematic clusters. Percussionist Steve Kroon shines on Benny Carter's "South Side Samba," and bassist Lonnie Plaxico more than adequately fills in the Mingus role "Nostalgia In Times Square" with an extended, buoyant solo in the middle of the tune. Randy Brecker's work keeps getting better and better as well, his harmonic introduction with Blue on "Wee" merely hinting at the soaring work to follow in the fiery Latin trumpet tradition.
After years of paying his duesand more importantly, of deepening his understanding of the spiritual tradition of the musicT.K. Blue is slowly but surely emerging as a one of the most original alto saxophonists on the scene.
Track Listing: Wee, Village Council Interlude 1, Dance Of The Nile, Frozen Mist, Eyes Of The Elders, Village Council Interlude 2, Harold's Theme, Nostalgia In Times Square, Village Council Interlude 3, Matriarch, Rites Of Passage, South Side Samba, Wise One
Personnel: T.K. Blue, saxophones, flutes, kalimbas; Randy Brecker, trumpet, flugelhorn; Stefon Harris, marimba, vibraphone; Joanne Brackeen, Eric Reed, James Weidman, piano; Lonnie Plaxico, bass; Jeff "Tain" Watts, drums; Steve Kroon, percussion