LP REVIEW: Randy Weston - Blue Moses

Randy Weston – Blue Moses
(Speakers Corner/CTI 6016. LP review by Andrew Cartmel)

The reissue of the vintage CTI catalogue on high quality vinyl continues to expand with another classic recording, this one from the exemplary Speakers Corner label, based near the Baltic coast in Northern Germany. Blue Moses is an unusual big band excursion by keyboard player and composer Randy Weston. Brooklyn born, of Jamaican descent, Weston is a disciple of Ellington and Monk who made a particular study of African music and even relocated to Morocco for five years. On his return to the States, Creed Taylor showed his faith in Weston by investing in these 1972 large ensemble sessions, played by the cream of contemporary jazz musicians, arranged by Don Sebesky and recorded by Rudy Van Gelder.

Ifrane has a busy, bustling big band sound, brassy and crowded, suggesting Bacharach in jazz mode or perhaps seventies Stan Kenton. The bold chopping, staccato trumpet that emerges from the pack is Freddie Hubbard with Bill Cobham’s buoyant, exultant drumming underpinning it. The recording is rock solid and the music bubbling with excitement. Ganawa (Blue Moses) is a complete change of pace, small and intimate, led by Weston’s electric piano with tasty percussion, courtesy of Phil Kraus, Airto Moreira and Azzedin Weston, rocking into an African groove — this time suggestive of Henry Mancini at his most tasteful and adroit (think of the film score for Hatari). Weston’s own smooth, rolling electric keyboards shape the piece with Hubert Laws’s flute weaving through the soft rapid fluttering of percussion and providing highlights.

Night In Medina gives us lonely, delicate keyboards, and tentative, spooky, woodwinds like the moan of a mother creature looking for a lost cub in some dark forest. The playing is dense, breathy, intimate and haunting with rattling percussion, cries (Madame Meddah is the vocalist) and the lovely, dirty insinuating tenor sax of Grover Washington. The final track Marrakesh Blues begins with Madame Meddah’s vocals evoking North Africa before Laws’s beautifully shaped flute and Ron Carter’s weighty, graceful bass set the stage for Randy Weston, his electric piano poetic and wistful. Then Cobham’s taut drums change the pace to a modernist strut and Weston responds, playing imperative, circular phrases. Washington’s sax is as delicately floating and insistent as a mosquito — before it moves in for the attack. The African/American duality which is the mission statement of the album is probably most elegantly embodied in this track. Carter is particularly featured here, with David Horowitz’s Moog and some stunning work from the crack horn section. Like the other pieces on the record, this is an original written by Randy Weston. Throughout the album, Don Sebesky’s arrangements do an exemplary job of reinforcing but never overwhelming Weston’s writing or the playing of the core group. And the African mood and sound never comes across as ersatz, despite it being presented in a cutting edge, electronic 1970s format.

Although it subsequently drifted into obscurity, Blue Moses was something of a best seller when it was first released and it’s easy to see why. Now it’s wonderful to have it available again on vinyl, and sounding so good. This 180 gram reissue, pressed at Pallas in Lower Saxony (Europe’s leading record plant) also preserves the beautiful Pete Turner cover photo featuring the stare of a mystic, focused on infinity — a psychedelic, solarised image drawn from Turner’s visit to the Far East. “This is a holy man, in Benares, India, near the Ganges,” recalls the photographer, where he was “on assignment covering Allen Ginsberg.” A perfect accompaniment to this modern jazz vision of distant horizons, with American art paying homage to foreign devotions.

LINK: Blue Moses at Speakers Corner Records

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