Thursday, October 07, 2010

Randy Weston's Blues Eruption

One of the dilemmas of writing about jazz and blues is that recordings go in and out of print, no matter how meritorious the recording is. One case in point is the Randy Weston album, Volcano Blues that was issued on Antilles and now found on Amazon as a rare collectible or as a used gem. It was a particularly appealing album for me in that in included two vocals by the late Texas blues man, Johnny Copeland. And of course it had the marvelous arrangements by Melba Liston, Weston’s longtime collaborator. Anyway here is a review I did of it back in the January-February 1994 issue of Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 188) of an album that certainly holds up today, and hopefully will get reissued soon.

Pianist-Composer, Randy Weston, and arranger, Melba Liston, have teamed for an exploration of the blues in its various forms 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 accompanied solely by his 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 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 but in a more deliberate approach. Links with Africa are explored on Chalabati Blues, anchored by Jamil Naser’s steady bass line and framed by Liston’s imaginative arrangements. Wallace Roney’s 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 here. 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 many fine concise solos. 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.

There are copies available on ebay as well as amazon.

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