Randy Weston | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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At 76, pianist Randy Weston is one of the last true bebop-era legends. But the composer of jazz standards like "Hi-Fly," "Berkshire Blues," and "Little Niles" has never been one to rest on his laurels. Back in the 50s he expanded on the individualistic accomplishments of Thelonious Monk, adopting his tricky rhythmic phrasing and jagged harmonies with a rare understanding. In the 60s he became one of the first jazz musicians to investigate the music's deep links to Africa; the recently released Randy Weston's African Rhythms on the French Comet label collects a pair of obscure quartet albums cut in Paris in the late 60s that nicely summarize the collision of bebop and African rhythms in a slew of tunes written earlier in the decade--"African Cookbook," "Marrakech Blues," "A Night in Medina." By 1968 Weston's interests led him to move to Tangier, where he operated a nightclub and began to collaborate with the locals. His interest in the hypnotic grooves made by Morocco's Gnawa musicians became a major influence on his work, and on Spirit! The Power of Music (Gitanes, 2000) and at a 2001 Symphony Center gig we finally got to hear him interact with some of those Gnawa musicians to breathtaking effect. Yet Weston hasn't limited his collaborative efforts to Africa; on his superb 1998 album Khepera, the great Chinese pipa player Min Xiao-Fen fit right into his sound. For this engagement Weston will be joined by the other members of his longtime trio: Panamanian bassist Alex Blake--who's masterfully retrofitted the twangy sound of the Moroccan sintir to the upright bass--and flexible hand percussionist Neil Clarke. Friday and Saturday, April 19 and 20, 9 and 11 PM, and Sunday, April 21, 4, 8, and 10 PM, Jazz Showcase, 59 W. Grand; 312-670-2473.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Michael Jackson.

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