THE RANDY WESTON TRIO: Unique Modern Jazz Stylings
Randy Weston (p) with Sam Gill (b) Art Blakey (drs)
NYC; January 25, 1955
Zulu (3:26) (Randy Weston)
Pam's Waltz (3:41) (Randy Weston)
Solemn Meditation (6:53) (Sam Gill)
Again (5:02) (Cochran-Newman)
If You Could See Me Now (3:35) (Tadd Dameron)
Sweet Sue (3:43) (Harris-Young)
RANDY WESTON is undeniably a real comer, a modern pianist of consequence, whose work is a brilliant display of modern jazz stylings. He is an artist of high inventive discretion, and his musical creations are a durable, highly-individual pleasure - quite personal and delightfully imaginative, and expressed with a light and lively touch.
Weston safely avoids the modern jazz tendency towards insipid refinement. His performances, charged with musical meaning and expressiveness and demonstrating a considerable rarity of imagination, clearly mark him as having what should be a major jazz future.
The above paragraphs, we're quick to admit, are just the sort of purple praise you're apt to run into all too often in album notes. In most cases, any sensible reader can be expected to spot such writing as obviously just the product of the commercialized imagination of someone whose job it is to use every possible superlative, without bothering much about accuracy, in order to get you to buy a particular LP.
BUT (and what a big and satisfying "but" this is) the only reason for us to "admit" this so readily is that - this time, at least, that just isn't the way things are. The simple fact this time is that we hardly wrote those excited paragraphs at all.
For one, all that shouting is worth taking very seriously. For all the carefully italicized handsprings in those opening sentences are taken from published reviews of Randy Weston's work. They are the written opinions of some of the most firmly established and highly regarded experts on the current jazz scene: Nat Hentoff (Down Beat), Barry Ulanov (Metronome), John S. Wilson (High Fidelity Magazine), Wilder Hobson (Saturday Review), plus that authoritative trade journal of the music business, The Billboard.
These highly flattering reports were called forth by Randy Weston's debut on records, on his first Riverside LP*. With quotes of this caliber, from such objective sources, on hand, it seems best to keep our own great enthusiasm for the present album on a restained and dignified level. So we'll just content ourselves with pointing out what extra attractions this new LP has to offer - over and above a second helping of the same remarkable jazz talent that caused all that cheering.
Perhaps most importantly, this second Weston album displays a further step in the natural maturing of a still-growing artist. (note: the reference is to artistic growth only. Randy now stands a full six feet, seven inches tall, and expects to do no more of that sort of growing…) Weston's work suggests clearly enough that he has assimilated in some ways from certain major figures of the talent-rich period of jazz piano in which he has developed (which is precisely what an aware young musician might be expected to do). There are indications of such differing influences, for example, as Art Tatum and Thelonious Monk. But, much more significantly, there is even clearer and ever-increasing evidenced of a startlingly individual style: of an approach, of concepts, of skilled and fascinating jazz experimentation, all of which belong personally and uniquely to Randy Weston.
Not to be underestimated is the support he receives here from Art Blakey and Sam Gill. The bass player, who has studied at Julliard and elsewhere, has worked closely with Randy for some time. The "exceptional rapport" between these two which John Wilson noted in his review of the earlier album is once again an important factor. As for Art Blakey, who was a special addition for this date, he is of course deservedly regarded as among the very finest of modern jazz drummers. His work here adds just one more startling bit of proof as to the way in which Art (as very few other drummers could hope to do) can use his instrument both to prove valuable rhythmic backing and to make an important creative contribution.
Finally, there is the nature of the repertoire Randy has selected here. He has of course, as so many modern musicians are now learning to do, made effective use of the opportunity presented by the long-playing record - and opportunity to break away from the standard bonds of the three-minute time limit of the 78rpm disc. This needn't mean that every number has to be played with extensively. It does mean, as Randy ably demonstrates here, the immense advantages of being able to work creatively on a selection for exactly as long or as short a time as seems called for on a specific occasion - with no need to keep an eye on the clock or on frantic motions from the control booth.
This album, as it turned out after some experimentation, is evenly divided between originals and whatever you care to call the other kind of compositions. The customary word "standards" won't do here, since in all cases the emphasis is on freshness and exploration: only Sweet Sue is in the old-warhorse category, and the up-tempo Weston version makes it a new addition to the roster of tunes that have been rather unexpectedly revitalized and renovated into effective modern-jazz material.
Again is a pop song of 1948 vintage. It had its fling and, in due course, faded away. But its haunting melodic line stayed in Weston's mind, to emerge in this warm mood-piece. As for If You Could See Me Now, it's startling to note that this seems to be only the second time this truly beautiful composition has been recorded. For it is the work of Tadd Dameron, one of the important pioneer arrangers of bop, and its first recording has for almost a decade been a favorite conversation piece among more than a few musicians and fans - it was one of Sarah Vaughan's fines early vocals, and her backing included some rare and memorable trumpet touches by the talented, short-lived Freddie Webster. But the tune has somehow been by-passed until now. Randy explores and develops it affectively here, in his only unaccompanied solo.
Of the three originals, one is the work of Sam Gill: Solemn Meditation, an introspective and changing piece that swings much more than its title would indicate and that offers its composer a chance for some extended solo work. Zulu is described by Weston as a development of a "primitive" blues theme; it was featured by him at last Summer's Jazz Festival at Music Inn in Lenox, Mass. Pam's Waltz (inspired by Randy's young daughter, Pamela) is the number that Weston's growing following has most frequently and insistently suggested he record. The waltz is of course a form long disdained by all schools of jazz. But, as played here, this waltz, at least, suddenly seems quite suitable jazz material, achieving musical validity, surprising strength, and a most lyrical melodic line.
*Randy Weston plays “Cole Porter in a Modern Mood” (RLP 2508), which includes:
I Get a kick Out of You, Night and Day, I’ve Got You Under My Skin, Just One of Those Things,
I love You, What Is This Thing Called Love, In the Still of the Night, Get Out of Town.
Produced by Bill Grauer and Orrin Keepnews
Recorded at Van Gelder Studio: Hackensack, N.J.
Art Blakey appears by courtesy of Emarcy Records.
Cover by Paul Weller
RIVERSIDE RECORDS are released by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS
418 West 49th Street New York 19, N.Y.