o say that Randy Weston was underappreciated is not the same as saying he wasn’t appreciated; instead, it’s to acknowledge that the honors he received, which include being named a National Endowment of the Arts Jazz Master, never quite matched the enormity of his achievements in connecting jazz to its African roots. The Rhythms Continue is alto saxophonist T.K. Blue’s attempt to rectify that by offering a strongly Afrocentric tribute to the late pianist’s legacy.
Blue’s link to Weston is strong, as he played in Weston’s African Rhythms band for 38 years, largely as music director. And it’s not just him. In addition to recruiting the bassist and drummer from Weston’s trio (Alex Blake and Neil Clarke, respectively), Blue brings in tenor saxophonist Billy Harper, who recorded a memorable duet album, The Roots of the Blues, with Weston in 2013, and pipa master Min-Xiao Fen, who was featured on 2017’s The African Nubian Suite. It’s quite an ensemble.
Weston experimented with a number of ensembles and approaches over the years, and Blue gamely tries to cover all the bases. There are splashes of Africana, like the driving, hand drum-driven “Kucheza Blues,” which boasts a smoking tenor solo from Harper, and the sinuous flute feature, “At the Crossroads of Touba.” But the tracks built around Blue’s various thumb pianos are a mixed bag, ranging from the wonderfully atmospheric groove of “The Wise One Speaks” to the pleasant but repetitious pulse of “Faith for Those Who Come After.” There’s a spirited, bop-schooled sprint though Weston’s classic “Hi Fly” and a striking solo alto rendition of “Ifrane,” which is a marked contrast to the brassy, large-ensemble version on Weston’s Blue Moses album.
Heartfelt and sprawling, The Rhythms Continue does an excellent job of invoking the vast musical vistas Weston traversed. Still, it’s not hard to wish for future tributes that offer deeper looks at more specific parts of the pianist’s legacy.