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Art of Jazz Celebration 2008: The Ripple from Africa That Became an Ocean of Sound

Raul d'Gama Rose By

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But then we also heard why jazz is the music of hope... We heard "African Sunrise"
Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4

Ancient Future with Randy Weston at the Art of Jazz Celebration
Before he even sits down to play, Randy Weston fills a room... a venue if he has to. Then he pulls back the piano stool, stretches out his arms and the sounds of an Ancient Future fill every available space, push out the wall, climb embankments, rattle open windows, knock on every door in every available city to herald the music of the wisdom of the spirits! You can draw a direct line representing the art of the piano, from Ellington and through Monk to perhaps two or three pianists. Don Pullen is one and Cecil Taylor may be the other. But the linear spirit connection comes to a virtual stop where Randy Weston sits. And plays! No one musician appears to be in direct communion with the world of our ancestral spirits like Randy Weston is. He once said, so simply: "I thought about Osiris, when he was assigned to teach man about civilization and how he used music to do it..." This is what brought Weston to make his fabled recording, Ancient Future (Mutable, 2002).


On June 06, 2008, he returned to the Fermenting Cellar at the Distillery in Toronto, with his cohort Billy Harper, to give audiences another lesson in history... the history of the blues connecting all present with the origin of man. His music this night sought—as his always does—to be the very personification of Cheikh Anta Diop's Nations negres et culture... The African Origin of Civilization! Certainly it does when Randy Weston sits down to play his music. Weston, moved by Diop's de-construction of the origin of man, becomes the blue notes of the music as it communes with the spirits that he invokes... Not just Ellington and Monk, but Osiris and Ra... as Weston evinces such spirits as he commands the keyboard majestically—mostly down... way down the bass clef, but every so often, stretching his right arm and its gnarled fingers, to trill with a signature Weston figure at the far end of the treble clef... a host of angels fluttering the feathers of their proverbial wings!



Randy Weston is joined by Billy Harper, whose tenor saxophone—burnished black and gold—bursts into flaming tongues of music as he licks his lips, takes a deep breath and proceeds to assist Randy Weston in giving the audience a sagacious, if good-humored, lesson in the history of the music of the African- America. We hear why, without its African origins, without the blues of the ancient, contemporary music would never be the same. We hear it in the opening "Blues for Africa," when Billy Harper follows Weston's dense harmonic clusters with a raw-toned tenor solo, that stretches the music like a horizon being pushed back way beyond the depth of conventional perception. We hear layers of notes that dapple and dice Weston's melodic invention, dancing like nervous sprites at the dawn of civilization. We hear Blind Lemon as well as the children of the Great Nzambi Pungu, God to you and me! This is the African Dawn that spread its harmolodic light before the mind of Weston or Ornette could even conceive of sound on such a spectacular tonal palette!

With eyes wide shut, the Fermenting Cellar on this night became a cave in the fabled Egypt of the Pharaohs... the civilization to whom music was revealed... where a sonic brush, it has been said, dappled the strings of the lute... and colored some keys on the ancestor of the piano blue! Both Randy Weston and Billy Harper knew as much in their nerves and bones... Their music—from "Chalabati Blues" to "Berkshire Blues"—showed beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Blues was a revealed idiom... its secrets unraveling under the cascade of notes. Of skin burnt blinding black under a harsh sun and a harsher human history.

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