Saxophonist T.K. Blue, known earlier in his career as Talib Kibwe, dedicates The Rhythms Continue, an expansive suite of 19 tracks to his long-time bandleader and mentor, NEA Jazz Master Dr. Randy Weston, who passed away a little over a year ago. Comprised of compositions by Blue, Weston and Weston’s long-time arranger Melba Liston, Blue utilizes a much smaller ensemble than Weston did on many of his own albums. Although there are ten musicians in the credits, four of them are pianists, Vince Ector (drums) does not play on all tracks nor does bassist Alex Blake. The heavy lifting is done by Blue who plays alto/soprano saxophones, flute, kalimba, sanza, lukembi and mbira, the latter four of which are African instruments. Joining him on most tracks is percussionist Chief Baba Neil Clarke. Long-time Weston band member tenor saxophonist Billy Harper guests on two tracks and Min Xiao-Fen adds pipa on one. The four pianists contribute as follows: Sharp Radway (5), Kelly Green (2) and both Keith Brown and Mike King on Weston’s most well-known song “Hi Fly.”
Like Blue who performed in Weston’s African Rhythms band for 38 years, most of them as Musical Director, the supporting cast is well versed in African rhythms, jazz sensibility and the intensity of spirit that Weston is renowned for. The beloved Weston, also known as America’s African Music Ambassador, was the foremost artist in connecting American jazz to Africa, and especially African rhythms. Weston is also dubbed Baba, an African honorific meaning “father.” Weston was courageous and inspirational, leading many African-Americans to embrace their heritage amidst periods of racial and social unrest. Blue pays homage to the man who he cites as mentor, elder, and teacher.
Unlike some of Weston’s albums which featured a few lengthy pieces, many of these 19 are short, serving as interludes. We will touch on the larger ones, but none extend much beyond six minutes. The opening “Kasbah,” written by Blue, is performed with a basic quartet with Radway at the piano and Blue on alto. It’s dedicated to Weston’s Brooklyn home as the term refers to a safe haven, a fortress, or a place to exchange ideas with people of different cultures. “Night in Medina” comes from Weston’s CTI album Blue Moses, not only one of this writer’s favorite Weston albums, but one of the label’s best. Blue performs it alone, multi-tracking his reeds and flute. It traces to Morocco, one of Weston’s favorite locales as he lived in Tangiers for several years. And, Blue Moses was not only the biggest selling Weston album. It’s an amazing piece of music that should be heard by those unfamiliar with it. “Kucheza Blues” is the fourth movement of Weston’s suite Uhuru Afrika recorded in 1960. Blue recorded it with Weston for the only time on Volcano Blues (1993). This one brings in long-time Weston tenor man Billy Harper and scintillating percussion by Chief Baba Neil Clarke.
The rollicking ”Hi Fly,” Weston’s most well-known tune, deservedly has the most musicians contributing with Harper, Clarke, Ector and Blake aboard with the shimmering dual pianos of King and Brown and an adventurous solo from Harper. Blue recorded this previously on Introducing Taleb Kibwe (1996) with Weston at the piano. Also from Blue Moses is “Ifrane,” about a city in the Atlas Mountains in Morocco, and like “Night in Medina” performed alone by Blue, this time on alto. “Just Waiting: A Sister’s Lament” is one of two compositions from the great trombonist, composer, and arranger Melba Liston, here performed as a gorgeous duet between Blue and pianist Kelly Green.
Blue’s original “Dinner Chez Gladys” is the disc’s longest piece at a little over six minutes, and is rendered with a quintet that features Radway, Clarke, Ector, and Blake with Blue’s alto leading the melody across one of the most distinctively African rhythm pieces in the suite, especially the dialogue in the mid-section with Ector and Clarke. It’s the distinctive trademark sound of acoustic piano and African percussion that was Weston’s hallmark. The closing “World 3:The Last Goodbye” salutes Weston as one of the pioneers of world music, extending back to the ‘50s. This is primarily a percussion tour de force with Blue on his various African instruments and Min Xiao Fen on the four-stringed Chinese instrument, the pipa, before Blue joins on flute to the accompaniment of Radway’s piano and Fen’s pipa. It’s simply mesmerizing and a fitting way to end this heartfelt tribute.
Hopefully, this project will encourage listeners to seek out Blue’s work as a leader as well as returning to all those great Randy Weston albums like Blue Moses and Tanjah. As Blue says in closing, “Baba Randy lives on in myself, and many others. The world is a better place because of his life and legacy.” Thank you, T.K. Blue. Like you, we dearly miss Weston’s music but hopefully, this is indeed an indication that the rhythms will continue.