Trio and Solo
The Randy Weston Trio (Side 1): Randy Weston (p) Sam Gill (b) Art Blakey (drs)
Hackensack, New Jersey; January 25, 1955
Randy Weston unaccompany piano (Side 2) New York; September 10, 1956 (#1-4)
Hackensack, New Jersey; January 25, 1955 (#5)
1. Sweet Sue (3:43) (Harris – Young)
2. Pam’s Waltz (3:41) (Randy Weston)
3. Solemn Meditation (6:53) (Sam Gill)
4. Again (5:02) (Cochran – Newman)
5. Zulu (3:26) (Randy Weston)
1. Little Girl Blue (3:52) (Hart – Rodgers)
2. We’ll Be Together Again (4:05) (Laine – Fischer)
3. Softness (4:23) (Randy Weston)
4. Lover (4:00) (Hart – Rodgers)
5. If You Could See Me Now (3:35) (Tadd Dameron)
RANDY WESTON, as a rapidly-growing number of jazz listeners have discovered, is a distinctive and highly talented pianist. He is, without doubt, well on his way to being a big musician. Let me quickly add that there is no pun intended by that "big", even though he is also a man who (as the striking cover photograph makes clear) has reached a height commonly associated only with professional basketball players.
While it's impossible to avoid this matte of size, there is also no purpose served by over-emphasizing it. Let's face it, being tall is fine for things like reaching high shelves, and breathing in crowded elevators. It also has its gloomier side: having to put up with bad jokes of the how's-the -weather-up-there variety; and not being able to set your knees under most piano keyboards. Being so tall is also an impressive attention-getter. Devices such as the photo on this cover are surely helpful, just so long as they are legitimate: posing him with a sports car does emphasize Randy's height, but it is a real car, not a toy or a camera trick. However, what any performer with non-standard attributes must be wary of is 'cute' publicity. (For some reason, I recall a six foot, four inch showgirl who was briefly married to midget, which I always considered to be in, shall we say, slightly dubious taste.) It should be reasonably obvious that, aside from a certain physical advantage gained from extremely long-fingered hands, short or tall has nothing to do with musical abilities. Weston just happens to be tall; he is a superior jazz artist. To risk getting in the way of anyone's appreciation of his music by obscuring that distinction would be a major crime.
The material that makes up this album offers two sets of views of a talent that is consistently lyrical, tasteful, genuinely inventive, and guided by a sure and forthright beat. On Side 1, Randy is featured in the kind of framework that is the modern pianist's normal setting: with drums and bass in support. Among the more striking differences between current and earlier jazz forms is that a piano player's left hand has ceased to be employed strictly as a rhythmic base. With the other rhythm instruments taking over that function, the piano-led trio of today is generally the equivalent of the unaccompanied piano of the past. This, however, need not mean that solo piano has become a lost art. Weston demonstrates that point on Side 2.
The Trio here includes Sam Gill and, as a special guest, Art Blakey. The surging Mr. Blakey, long recognized as one of the very finest of modern jazz drummers, is a longstanding friend of Weston's, and offers him a rare degree of close-knit, well-integrated support. Art's work here adds just one more starling bit of proof of his ability (shared by very few other drummers) to provide valuable rhythmic backing and, at the same time, to make important creative contributions of his own. Gill who has studied at Julliard and elsewhere, was Randy's regular bassist until he entered the Army in 1956, and the two men had achieved what critic John S. Wilson accurately tabbed as "exceptional rapport".
The up-tempo Sweet Sue that kicks off the album points up Weston's capacities for freshness and exploration in the clearest possible way, by showing just how much newness he can pump into an old warhorse. The other standard, Again, is a ballad of 1948 vintage that had its fling at popularity and, in due course, faded away. But its haunting melodic line stayed in Randy's mind, to emerge as this warm mood-piece. Of the three originals, one is the work of Sam Gill: Solemn Meditation, and introspective and changing piece that swings much more than its title would indicate and that offers its composer an opportunity for some extended solo work. Zulu is described by Weston as a development of a "primitive" blues theme; Pam's Waltz (inspired by Randy's young daughter) makes surprisingly effective jazz material out of a musical form usually disdained by all schools of jazz, achieving surprising strength and a memorably lyrical melodic line.
The solo selections tend, probably inevitably, to be softer and tenderer, emphasizing a rare feeling for the depth of ballads. The three familiar standards, one original and Tadd Dameron's overly-neglected If You Could See Me Now (best remembered as one of Sarah Vaughan's finest early vocals) all demonstrate that solo piano, for Weston at least, is far more than just a matter of working without bass and drums. In a trio, Randy meshes with his co-workers; alone, he sounds thoroughly self-contained, seeming to gain vertically what he has given up horizontally, building intensely personal moods. If there is less overt swing, there is more thoughtfulness; less stride and more richness. It isn't necessary to make any choice between these two quite different, but not at all contradictory facets of his playing; the stylistic differences appear substantially and fascinatingly greater than you'd find in most pianists - but that's hardly ????? ???? in a man who acknowledges, as his strongest ea?????????, both Thelonious Monk and Art Tatum!
Weston, born in Brooklyn in 1929 and largely a product of the 'School of Hard Listening' to the forces that defined modern jazz on New York's 52nd Street during the mid-1940s, has won extravagant praise from just about every critic who has been exposed to his work (among them: Nat Hentoff, George Simon, Wilder Hobson) and was selected as "New Star" pianist in the 1955 Sown Beat International Critics Poll. He has appeared in clubs throughout the East and Midwest, including New York's famed Cafe Bohemia and Birdland.
(The first four members on Side 2 are preciously unissued. The other selections were included in the 10-inch Riverside LP, "The Randy Weston Trio.")
Other 12-inch Riverside LPs featuring Weston are:
Get Happy with the RANDY WESTON Trio (RLP 12-203)
RANDY WESTON Trio, plus CECIL PAYNE (RLP 12-214)
Outstanding modern jazz on 12-inch HIGH FIDELITY Riverside albums includes:
Brilliant Corners: THELONIOUS MONK; with Sonny Rollins, Ernie Henry, Clark Terry (RLP12-226)
The Unique THELONIOUS MONK; with Oscar Pettiford, Art Blakey (RLP12-209)
THELONIOUS MONK plays Duke Ellington; with Oscar Pettiford, Kenny Clarke (RLP12-209)
Zoot! – The ZOOT SIMS Quintet; with George Handy, Nick Travis (RLP12-228)
Presenting ERNIE HENRY; with Kenny Dorham, Kenny Drew (RLP12-222)
Trigger Happy! –TRIGGER ALPERT All-Stars; with Tony Scott, Zoot Sims, Urbie Green, Al Cohn, Joe Wilder, Ed Shaughnessy (RLP12-225)
KENNY DREW Trio; with Paul Chambers, Philly Joe Jones (RLP12-224)
Jazz by Gee! – MATTHEW GEE All-Stars; with Frank Foster, Kenny Dorham, Cecil Payne, Ernie Henry (RLP12-221)
New Music of ALEC WILDER; composed for Mundell Lowe and his Orchestra (RLP12-219)
Guitar Moods by MUNDELL LOWE (RLP12-208)
MUNDELL LOWE Quartet (RLP12-204)
BILL EVANS: New Piano Jazz Conceptions (RLP12-223)
Counterpoint for Six Valves: DON ELLIOTT and RUSTY DEDRICK play arrangements by Dick Hyman (RLP12-218)
BOB CORWIN Quartet featuring the trumpet of DON ELLIOTT (RLP12-220)
A HIGH FIDELITY Recording (Audio Compensation: RIAA Curve)
Produced by Bill Grauer and Orrin Keepnews
Notes by Orrin Keepnews
Cover photograph: Paul Weller; typographic design: Paul Bacon
Engineers: Side 1, and Side2, #5, Rudy Van Gelder; others, Jack Higgins (Reeves Sound Studios).
RIVERSIDE RECORDS are released by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS
418 West 49th Street New York 19, N.Y.