Sunday, August 09, 2009

Weston & Liston's Blues Eruption

The following review originally appeared in the January-February 1994 Jazz & Blues Report. As originally written it contains one major gaffe that I have corrected here. This is a part of the Johnny 'Clyde' Copeland recorded legacy I would suspect most are unaware of. This is well worth trying to acquire at used CD stores or ebay auctions.

Pianist-Composer, Randy Weston, and arranger, Melba Liston, have teamed for an exploration of the blues in its various forms, Volcano Blues (Gitanes), as they lead a little big band which includes Wallace Roney on trumpet, Hamiet Bluett on baritone sax, Teddy Edwards on tenor sax, Ted Dunbar on guitar and Charlie Persip on drums. Comprised mostly of Weston’s compositions, the voicings of Liston’s arrangements add more than punch to these intriguing explorations in the blues. Texas bluesman Johnny Copeland performs on unaccompanied acoustic guitar, Blue Mood, a Jessie Mae Robinson composition that T-Bone Walker first recorded. Eschewing his guitar, Copeland also reprises Jimmy Rushing’ vocal on a Count Basie recording, Harvard Blues, which like the Caribbean flavored Volcano, is taken from the Count Basie orchestra book. It should be noted that one expecting to hear wailing Kansas City jazz with plenty of blowing solos will be disappointed as Weston and Liston explore a variety of aspects of the blues. Links with Africa are explored on Chalabati Blues, which is anchored by Jamil Naser’s steady bass line and framed by Liston’s imaginative horn voicings. Wallace Roney’s hard bop trumpet shines on Sad Beauty Blues, a Weston composition featuring another carefully worked out Weston solo. More African flavor underlies The Nafs, a feature for Hamiet Bluett’s gut bucket baritone sax. In addition to Copeland’s vocal, Harvard Blues sports a splendid tenor solo from Teddy Edwards who also solos on Blues for Strayhorn, which Weston originally wrote for (and performed at) the funeral of Duke Ellington’s right hand man. Both Weston’s piano and Liston’s scoring capture the Ellington flavor. J.K Blues is a tight bop blues reminiscent of some of the hot blues instrumentals recorded forty years ago, although this performance is distinguished by the concise solos. The supporting cast features some great players who shine here. Weston is the primary soloist on piano and while economical playing, like that of Basie and Monk, shows that it is what one plays and says that matters, not how many notes are played. While the liner notes get pretentious at spots, there is little else to fault about this consistently thoughtful, earthy and rewarding recording.

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