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Jason Moran, Randy Weston and Billy Harper at SFJazz

Harry S. Pariser By

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Jason Moran, Randy Weston and Billy Harper
SFJazz
San Francisco, CA
November 24, 2013

Three fine musicians came together on stage in a new jazz facility in San Francisco. First up was a rising star in the jazz world, an acclaimed pianist who frequently incorporates samples of taped music and text in his onstage performance. The second portion of the evening saw the reunion of two longtime off-and-on collaborators. The venue was SFJAZZ Collective. The musicians: Jason Moran on solo piano, followed by the duo of pianist Randy Weston and saxophonist Billy Harper.

Originally from Texas and known for his work with Randy Weston, Harper has played with the likes of Gil Evans, Max Roach and Art Blakey. Weston himself first came to notice during the 1950s and has long been known for his interest in African music. He has performed in Africa and lived in Morocco. He remains one of the most influential living jazz pianists, and his book "African Rhythms" tells his story.

One of the most innovative young pianists on today's jazz scene, Moran was born in 1975, when Weston was already decades into his career, and he began studying the piano at age six. He had nearly come to abandon the instrument when he first heard the music of Thelonious Monk which inspired him to keep pursuing his mastery of the 88 keys.

Now a piano whiz, Moran is a congenial, friendly performer who knows how to engage and enthrall an audience. After an introductory number, he related how he collects old vinyl and came across an LP by Pigmeat Markham, whom many believe to be a progenitor of what was to become rap. He sampled Markham while tapping at the keys. "Thank you Pigmeat for sampling your wealth with us," he declared. He also performed, with similar technical prowess and skill, Duke Ellington's "Single Petal of a Rose," as well as compositions commissioned by the city of Chicago. His playing was lovely, lyrical and innovative.

Weston and Harper then took the stage. Although they have performed together in an ensemble, their duets today (they had performed at a benefit earlier) marked the first appearance, in recent memory at least, as a duo in San Francisco. Weston was garbed in his customary African cap while Harper bared his silver-topped mane of hair. These skilled and seasons of veterans shone with a sweet, energetic and soulful synergy reflective of their decades of creative association.

Harper waxed eloquently on tenor for the Weston classic "Berkshire Blues" which followed "Loose Wig," the first number. Weston introduced "If Only You Could Be Mine" by asking Harper to tell about how it came about: A big hand reached down in a dream. "Music is magic," Weston waxed. "You can't touch it." He continued with his magical classic "The Beauty of It All" from Volcano Blues, tapped out a children's song from the Congo and concluded with Ghanaian Guy Warren's "Mystery of Love," which has been his theme song for more than four decades, tapping the keys on the far right of the keyboard before moving to the deeper, bass sounds on the left.

Returning for an encore, the duo played "Blue Moses," a song written during Weston's sojourn in Tunisia (where he first played with Harper). Weston blew kisses to the audience as he received a standing ovation. "What a beautiful feeling this is," he intoned. The sentiment was clearly shared by the highly enthused audience.

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