Randy Weston: Khepera

Fresh from the emotional high of his February realization of Uhuru Africa on Brooklyn’s Majestic Theatre stage, the master Weston entered the studio bent on musically manifesting at least some element of his scholarly pursuit of the documented but little known African presence in ancient China. The vessel through which he portrays this unique cultural fusion is the pipa and gong playing of Min Xiao-Fen on two tracks, “The Shang, and “Portrait of Cheikh Anta Diop.” The latter celebrates the great African intellectual who is one of Weston’s abiding inspirations.

This fusing of China and Africa remains an immense mystery, but Weston realizes his version in the manner of an opening chapter, with such other guests as Pharoah Sanders on saxophones, trap drummer Victor Lewis, and frequent African percussion collaborator Chief Bey joining Weston band regulars Alex Blake on bass, Neil Clark on hand drums, trusty trombonist Benny Powell, and musical director Talib Kibwe on alto sax and flute. Added to his enormous appetite for the Africaness of jazz and his continuous cultural and intellectual pursuits, are the lessons Weston learned from his mentor Thelonious Monk. Chief among those lessons are Randy’s uncanny ability to re-craft, to maintain freshness in melodies and rhythms he has investigated frequently, such as the familiar “Niger Mambo,” which is re-stated here, or any of the other familiar melodies Khepera reinvests with renewed wisdom. Randy Weston the skilled recycler is an important part of his opulent musical history.

Willard Jenkins

Willard Jenkins has covered jazz artists, performances, and the jazz infrastructure since his early-’70s undergrad days writing for The Black Watch student newspaper at Kent State University. Additionally, he has been a jazz broadcaster since 1973— currently programming at WPFW in Washington, D.C.—and a jazz concerts and festivals presenter since 1978. He currently serves as artistic director of the DC Jazz Festival and artistic director of jazz programming at Tribeca Performing Arts Center (NYC). A founding member of the Jazz Journalists Association, he is also a recipient of its Lifetime Achievement award.