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December 2003

Randy Weston
Mosaic Select
Mosaic Records

This three-CD boxed set is a treasure trove for Randy Weston fans who can't find, let alone afford, earlier albums from the prolific pianist-composer. Excerpted sessions include: Piano la Mode, 1957; Little Niles, 1958; Live at the Five Spot, 1959; The Roulette Jazz CD Sampler, 1960; Uhuru Afrika (Freedom Africa), 1960; and Highlife, 1963. In addition to the reissues, there are tunes that have never been issued. The Mosaic project will also appeal to those who share Weston's fascination with the African roots of jazz.

The most memorable contributions are those of Melba Liston, who did all the arrangements and shows her skills as a trombonist. Then there is the name-dropping. Among those greats heard from here: Coleman Hawkins and Kenny Dorham, the front line on Weston's best-known tune, "Hi-Fly," as well as Clark Terry, Cecil Payne, Johnny Griffin, Ron Carter, Roy Haynes, Julius Watkins, Jimmy Cleveland, Freddie Hubbard, Budd Johnson, Max Roach, Gigi Gryce, Kenny Burrell--it never ends.

The only criticism regarding the Uhuru suite comes from a surprising source: Langston Hughes' lyrics to "African Lady" fail to match Weston's haunting melody; the wordless reprise of the tune by singers Martha Flowers and Brock Peters proves to be the preferable version.

Pianistically, Weston shows his deep debts to Monk and Ellington. He lovingly reharmonizes "Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen," flattens the sixth in the title phrase of "Honeysuckle Rose" for a Monkish quirk and offers an original, "Gingerbread," based exclusively on flatted fifths. Weston also shows his infatuation with "Cocktails for Two" in a tasty solo setting-it never ends, and why should it?

There are 40 memorable tracks here from the 6-foot, 8-inch genius who, at 77, is still touring and recording. Here's hoping it never ends.

Originally published in December 2003
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