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There's no better argument for the notion that jazz keeps you young than Randy Weston. Appearing last month at the Blue Note in support of Zep Tepi, the Brooklyn-born Weston showed that at eighty he remains one of the most vital and creative forces in jazz, as well as one of its most charismatic figures.
Zep Tepi is a trio effort that revisits some of Weston's most popular and enduring compositions. While the fare is well knownincluding old favorites like "Berkshire Blues, "Hi Fly and an ecstatic take on "African Sunrise the performances are fresh, highlighting the deep spirituality of Weston's piano playing and his strong empathy with nonpareil bassist Alex Blake and African percussionist Neil Clarke. Fans of Weston's long-running African Rhythms quintet will no doubt miss the contributions of saxophonist TK Blue and trombonist Benny Powell, but the stripped-down trio format offers a valuable chance to focus attention on Weston and his rhythm section.
At the Blue Note, Weston laid out frequently, ceding the focus to Blake, a brilliantly unorthodox bassist who slaps and strums the strings with a ferocious attack, more like a slightly mad flamenco guitarist than a traditional jazz bassist keeping time. Weston played dark, rich chords and spare, off-kilter solos that reflected his deep connection to mentor Thelonious Monk, as well as his abiding immersion in the musical traditions of Africa. A closing homage to Duke Ellington highlighted Weston's indebtedness to another epic figure in the history of jazz piano.
Years ago now--in Rhodesia--listening to Voice of America with Willis Conover I heard Bunk Johnson play When The Saints Go Marching In, and Billie Holiday sing Don't Explain. I knew then there was no other life for me than jazz.