By Ron Scott, Amsterdam News
When examining T.K. Blue’s impressive career it becomes evident his meeting piano virtuoso Randy Weston whose music sprouted from the ancestors and roots of Africa was no coincidence. He actually met Weston while playing and touring with the great South African pianist Abdullah Ibrahim formerly known as “Dollar Brand.” Blue re-established his working relationship with Weston while living in Paris. He went on to become his chief saxophonist/flutist, arranger. Returning to NYC he debuted as Weston’s musical director during the recording of “The Spirits Of Our Ancestors” (Verve Records), an incredible working relationship that lasted over three decades until Weston’s death on September 1, 2018.
In memory of his mentor and long-time bandleader Blue’s “The Rhythms Continue” (JAJA Records) was released on Nov. 1, which is a memorable suite of 19 enthralling compositions by Weston, Melba Liston and Blue. “‘The Rhythms Continue’ is my humble offering to say thank you for being a mentor, elder, and teacher by sharing your infinite wisdom, and giving all of us pride in knowing who we are and valuing the brilliant cultural legacy of Africa that sustains and nourishes our existence,” stated Blue. The ensemble features the core of Weston’s African Rhythms with Blue, bassist Alex Blake, tenor saxophonist Billy Harper, and percussionist Chief Baba Neil Clarke with guest pianists Sharp Radway, Mike King, Keith Brown, and Kelly Green with special guest Min Xiao Fen on pipa. This is Blue’s 12th album as a leader and it is currently number 13 on the Jazz Week charts.
“Melba Liston and Randy had a symbiotic relationship like Strayhorn and Duke and her great accomplishments should be acknowledged; female arrangers and composers deserve a greater slice in jazz history so it was a necessity to include a few of her works.”
The first cut “Kasbah 330A” a Blue original is a hardbop up and at ’em tune. The alto saxophonist breaks out like a thoroughbred in a straight-ahead flight with pianist Sharp Radway, drummer Ector, and bassist Blake swing in unison like a bullet train in motion. “Just Waiting: A Sister’s Lament” by composer, trombonist and arranger Melba Liston is a beautiful bluesy ballad with layers of bellowing piano chords by Kelly Green and Blue’s haunting alto projecting profound notes that speak to the heart. On Weston’s “Kucheza Blues” the core of his former group combines for a spiritual eruption of African rhythms infused with finger poppin’ hipness as tenor saxophonist Harper offers some heavy moving riffs, under Blue’s flying soprano hits, explosive percussions from Clarke and drummer Ector. The final composition by Blue, “World 3: The Last Goodbye” is a trio setting featuring Fen on pipa (four-string Chinese instrument) and Radway on piano. Fen was a former friend and guest band member Weston often invited to perform with him.
“The final composition represents the concept of utilizing instruments outside of the jazz family. It is a reflection of how Randy was an early pioneer into world music,” said Blue. “He was a visionary, who realized the significance in bringing together musicians from around the world.” For this heartening suite Blue joined the glory of African rhythms with jazz harmonies by playing the kalimba, sanza, lukembi and mbira, all indigenous instruments of Africa. He played the instruments during short interludes between the songs that marry the roots of Africa with its jazz counterpart. “The African visions serve as a bridge between compositions that take listeners on an enriched journey that I was fortunate to take with Randy for 38 years,” said Blue.
Blue’s “The Rhythms Continue” is a great tribute to Randy Weston that continues the tradition of his great mentor whose African roots grow in our hearts as the ancestors speak of a great music and culture that will never die. “The Rhythms Continue” is a suite of musical urgency and sensibility that is much needed during these Twilight Zone moments.