With his towering height (around six six) and placid, noble bearing, Randy Weston might pass for a transplanted Watusi prince--even if he didn't favor African garb, and even if he had never written the African-inspired compositions that gained him fame in the 50s and 60s, and even if he hadn't been among the first jazz musicians to visit Africa, eventually settling for a while in Morocco. His experiences there helped him complete the fusion he had undertaken here. By combining the rhythmic and melodic impulses of African music with the harmonic language of the hard-bop years, Weston constructed a music of dark percussiveness but lithe rhythms--a body of work that has enlivened formats from piano trio to the sextet he has led on several recent discs to potboiler big bands playing arrangements that glint in the sun. When he plays solo, however--as he'll do at this appearance--he brings to the fore another aspect of jazz history. Weston remains one of the few pianists to have incorporated the pianistic influence (as opposed to the compositional legacy) of Thelonious Monk: you hear it in the blunt attack, the often herky-jerky phrasing of his right hand, and the spacious, slightly dissonant voicings in his left. Such qualities also underlay the piano style of Duke Ellington, another pianist/composer whose writing came to overshadow his playing. In Weston's hands the often overlooked link between these two giants comes into focus--in delightfully murky textures powered by rumbling basso chords and treble tintinnabulations. Weston's 1994 solo CD, Marrakech in the Cool of the Evening (Verve), mixed these ingredients into a spicy African-American stew; it makes a promising appetizer for this performance. Thursday, July 4, 8 PM, Martin Theatre, Ravinia Festival, Green Bay and Lake Cook Rds., Highland Park; 728-4642.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Ariane Smolderen.