with these hands ...
RANDY WESTON Trio plus CECIL PAYNE
Randy Weston (p) Cecil Payne (brs) Ahmed Abdul Malik (b) Wilbert Hogan (drs)
Hackensack, New Jersey; March 14 and 21, 1956
1. The Man I Love (4:01) (I. and G. Gershwin)
2. Serenade in Blue *(2:52) (Warren – Gordon)
3. I Can't Get Started With You (8:43) (I. Gershwin – Duke)
4. This Can't Be Love * (3:00) (Hart – Rogers)
1. These Foolish Things (4:35) (Marvelle – Strackey – Link)
2. Lifetime (4:13) (Weston – Payne)
3. Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me (5:08) (Duke Ellington)
4. Little Niles (4:52) (Randy Weston)
"With these hands" (as the caption to the striking cover photo puts it) RANDY WESTON has created another distinctive and rewarding jazz album.
Undoubtedly such hands are a great asset to a pianist. Gracefully and unusually long-fingered, they obviously deserve some share of credit for the deceptive ease of execution that is one of Weston's most notable qualities as a performer. But the hands could hardly be expected to do the job alone - nor are they required to. For Randy also possesses a heart and a mind that (although they can't be displayed photographically) are even more directly responsible for his comparatively quick and still-accelerating rise to a position of real importance among the very many skilled pianists to be found on the modern jazz scene.
Since his first album was released, in 1954, Weston has been deluged with an almost frightening quantity of critical acclaim. He has been singled out for remarkably high praise by some of the most respected and hard-to-please jazz writers: men who not only have severe standards, but who have also had so much recorded material to listen to in the past several years that you'd forgive them for being slightly jaded. You must assume that it really takes something special to jar them into superlatives, yet the most uninhibited creator of album blurbs could scarcely hope to out-do their pro-Weston quotes.
Randy has been described as "one of the most musically and mechanically articulate pianists around" (by George Simon, in Metronome); Wilder Hobson, in The Saturday Review, has referred to the "durable pleasure" of his "high inventive discretion"; Down Beat's Nat Hentoff has noted his "rarity of imagination" and tabbed him as destined for "a major jazz future." It was all neatly summed up in the Summer of 1955, when the annual Down Beat pool of leading critics included among its results a clear-cut victory for Weston as "New Star" pianist of the year.
Clearly, then, Randy has accomplished much, and will surely do much more. Thus it is not really news that on this, his fourth LP, he continues to take giant strides (no pun is intended, but it should be noted someplace that the man stands a full six feet, seven inches tall) towards rare heights of artistic maturity and achievement. But it is news that he has added here a significant "plus" item to his usual trio lineup:
Cecil Payne is a remarkable performer on that most difficult instrument, the baritone saxophone. His light has been more or less hidden under a bushel (to coin a cliche) for most of his playing career to date. This is one of those mysterious cases of virtually overlooked talent in which jazz, unfortunately, seems to abound, for Payne has been on hand throughout the modern-jazz era and has always been most highly regarded by fellow musicians. Born in Brooklyn in December, 1922, he has worked or recorded with J. J. Johnson, Roy Eldridge, Illinois Jacquet, and Dizzy Gillespie (with whose band he played regularly from late 1946 to early '49). Possibly this record, which gives a large share of the spotlight to his incredibly agile handling of a supposedly heavy-sounding instrument, may do something to remedy past neglect.
The Weston-Payne combination is by no means a casual or accidental one. The two have known each other since boyhood, and have long appreciated each other's music. Of late, Cecil has made several appearances at clubs as a well-integrated "added attraction" with the Weston Trio, which inevitably led to the idea of setting down on record some of their combined efforts. The results here indicate that this was a fortunate idea for all concerned - including listeners.
Payne's buoyant tones mesh neatly with the clear-cut, firm, lyrical lines of Weston's piano style. Randy, always a notably relaxed and swinging performer, seems obviously pleased with the combination; at any rate, he rarely 'wails' in top form throughout the LP. Also, there is the well-knit support provided by Wilbert Hogan's steady drumming and the unusually strong, full bass of Ahmed Abdul-Malik (who, as you might guess from his sound, is an unusually strong and solidly constructed man). All of which added up to a cohesiveness that makes possible some non-standard uses of this instrumental set-up. For this is not merely a matter of adding a horn to get easy "ensemble, each-of-us-takes-a-chorus, and out" routines. On the contrary, the baritone plays a specific role in well-organized, purposeful arrangements. Note for example the handling of These Foolish Things, which demonstrates the effectiveness, in terms of impact and contrast, of simply having the baritone sit out part of a number. Note also that it's apt to be either piano or baritone taking the melodic line, rather than both stating it jointly.
Two selections, Serenade in Blue and This Can't Be Love, are turned over entirely to the trio. Gershwin's Man I Love is an up-tempo dazzler that has amazing unity and includes some figures that ought to be impossible to make on baritone sax at this speed. The wonderful Duke Ellington tune, Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me, is a compellingly 'funky' finger: while the Vernon Duke classic I Can't Get Started, allows both Weston and Payne extensive solos of rare, tender beauty.
There are two originals. Like a previous waltz by Weston (Pam's Waltz, included in RLP 2515, and dedicated to his daughter), Little Niles seeks to create a mood descriptive of a "modern child." In this case, the present day child suggested is a boy. The piece is named for Randy's son. Lifetime is something of an accident: it started out as an introduction for a standard that eventually wasn't used for this album. While it was being worked up, this write happened by and innocently starting commenting on how much he liked the "original." Even when set straight, I insisted that it should be an original, and Randy and Cecil obligingly took it from there.
Randy Weston was born in Brooklyn in April, 1926, and thoroughly exposed himself to modern jazz in the 52nd Street heyday of the early '40s. He notes the early influence, dating from that period, of Art Tatum and Thelonious Monk, but his playing demonstrates that by now he has absorbed these and other influences into the mainstream of a distinctive, mature and quite personal style. He has led his own trio for the past few years, having been heard in New York at such clubs as the Cafe Bohemia and The Embers. Appearances in Cleveland, Baltimore, Rochester and elsewhere have helped add to his rapidly growing following. Of his three previous albums, all for Riverside, the first two are 10-inch LPs, the third a 12-inch LP:
RANDY WESTON Plays Cole Porter (RLP2508)
THE RANDY WESTON Trio; with Art Blakey(RLP2515)
Get Happy with the RANDY WESTON Trio (RLP12-203)
Other 12-inch High Fidelity Riverside LPs of outstanding modern jazz include:
THELONIOUS MONK plays Duke Ellington; with Oscar Pettiford, Kenny Clarke (RLP 12-201)
The Unique THELONIOUS MONK; with Oscar Pettiford, Art Blakey (RLP 12-209)
The Voice of MARTY BELL/ The Quartet of DON ELLIOTT (RLP 12-206)
MUNDELL LOWE Quartet; with Dick Hyman, Trigger Alpert, Ed Shaughnessy (RLP 12-204)
Guitar Moods by MUNDELL LOWE (RLP 12-208)
A High Fidelity Recording (Audio Compensation: RIAA Curve)
Produce by Orrin Keepnews and Bill Grauer
Notes by Orrin Keepnews
Cover designed by Fran Scott: photo by Hank Parker.
Engineer: Rudy Van Gelder
RIVERSIDE RECORDS are released by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS
418 West 49th Street New York 19, N.Y.