Randy Weston is a Brooklyn born pianist, with Caribbean and African influences, as suits this scholar with earthy roots. His earliest recordings on Riverside date from the mid-'50s, and his fingers have since taken him around the world. He's appeared on as many labels as one can label the man himself, yet there is a constant: a continual searching for depth. Although Weston has used every grouping from trio to jazz orchestra (arranged by the late Melba Liston) to traditional musicians from Marrakech, it is in solo piano where he is most himself. Luckily, he has been documented in solo form throughout his career, a recent (1989) peak being a trio of discs recorded in three days called Portraits (Duke, Monk and Self). Blue was originally released in 1984 and here is resurrected with a disc of new recordings, Ancient Future. It shows its influences on its sleeves, actually a double digipak: a hauntingly beautiful ankh on the new disc and the ink portrait of Weston on the former, with a map of Africa extending from his right hand, and South America as his piano lid. These are indicative, but do not give the sense of piano as damp, fertile earth these compositions give you. From the opening "Penny Packer Blues" through "Lagos" and the closing "Ellington Tusk", there is an amalgam of dark blues, rapid stride, pedalled impressionism, and timeless ornamentation both delicate and fierce in Blue. There is no overt Africanism in "Blue In Tunisia" or "Lagos" Weston is too worldly for that, but one feels the feeling.
Mutable Music, run by 1750 Arch owner Thomas Buckner, has been quietly resurrecting their treasures (Big Black and Roscoe Mitchell available now; ROVA and Galas among the sorely missed) on the new label. Rather than a straight reissue, here we have the luxury of an update of where Weston is now, via Ancient Future. His roots are still here, of course, but filtered through twenty more years of experience and intellect. The playing is slightly more abstract and internal, but not less communicative: the veins run deeper. Anyone familiar with Weston's playing would be hard put to fail a blindfold test. "Portrait of Oum Kalthoum", the great Egyptian singer, is a beautiful meditation on her work; there are no musical allusions to her style. "PCN", for Panama, Cuba, Nigeria is perhaps the richest piece: lots of dark notes, many but subtle rhythms. Before you realize it, a wickedly playful "It Don't Mean A Thing" strides over you as it in turn segues to "Body and Soul", taken nothing is static here for long in and out of 3/4 time. Much of the hour-long disc is presented as a suite, each piece commenting musically and historically on the rest.
Ancient Future/Blue is dark chocolate for the soul. [Note to the designers: don't glue a booklet to the left-hand side of a double digipak; it hurts the spine when you read it.]
This review first appeared in the September 2002 issue of All About Jazz: New York .