Label/Date: African Rhythms, 2017
Randy Weston: piano; Wayne Chandler: narrator; Billy Harper: tenor saxophone; TK Blue: alto saxophone, flute; Cecil Bridgewater: trumpet; Robert Trowers: trombone; Howard Johnson: tuba; Min Xiao Fen: pipa, vocals; Alex Blake: bass; Lewis Nash: drums; etc.
Recorded live on Easter Sunday April 8th, 2012 at NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts, The African Nubian Suite is an unconventional double-disc album that speaks history.
The project was conceived by the praised pianist Randy Weston, who gathers a respectful set of musicians, habitual and new, to illustrate his deep love for Africa, the origin of all music and main source of inspiration for so many years.
Previous works like Uhuru Afrika (Roulette, 1960) and The Spirits of Our Ancestors (Verve, 1992) mirror this African spirituality with brilliance, but none of them went so deep into the roots like this one.
Before almost every musical piece, Wayne Chandler narrates about Nubia, the oldest civilization in the world and the mother of Egypt. We learn that all the other civilizations came from this one, and Weston’s music, a joyful celebration that oscillates between traditionally minimalistic and collectively exuberant, spreads all those ancient scents through the sound of fascinating instruments like the kora, ganawa, pipa, nefer, and balafon.
They can be heard on disc one, which is more centered on the primordial roots, taking us not only to different African places, but also to China’s Shang dynasty and Sufi folklore moods.
“The Call”, a composition arranged by Melba Liston, features trumpeter Cecil Bridgewater's lines on top of the stylish and enigmatic textures created by Weston, who uses both lower and upper registers of the piano to enchant. The rhythm is predominately marked by the African percussion of the veteran Candido Camero of 94 years old.
While “Spirit of Touba” evokes the holy city of Senegal through Saliou Souso’s kora and TK Blue’s flute, “The Shang” visits the Orient, flowing with the sinuous melodies of Min Xiao-Fen on pipa and vocals.
Disc two is more blues-centered, featuring acclaimed jazz leaders such as saxophonists Billy Harper and TK Blue in a head-to-head battle. They bring all their African magic into “The African Family”, which also features a trio of percussionists that include Lewis Nash, and Neil and Ayanda Clarke.
“Blues for Tricky Sam” starts with the gorgeous voicings of the bandleader and proceeds with a trombone stroll by Robert Trowers. The same principle is used with Billy Harper in “Cleanhead Blues” yet with slightly extended interaction.
The real Southern heat comes from bassist Alex Blake in “Nanapa Panama Blues” where he shows off a rock‘n’roll-ish rhythmic flow through a mixed technique of slapping and plucking.
The party ends with the tribal groove of “Love, The Mystery Of”, which exhibits a great orchestration with piano trills and saxophone fills in the background.
Despite digging into the origins of humankind and music, The African Nubian Suite lacks the charm of Weston’s past gems cited above.
03(CD1) – The Call ► 05(CD2) – Nanapa Panama Blues ► 11(CD2) – The African Family Pt. II