Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Randy Weston: Tanjah

Tanjah is a gem from the 1970s, featuring Randy Weston and Melba Liston collaborating together (their last would be in 1998's Khepera, which is still commercially available), utilizing a big band format. Since this was recorded in the 1970s, you should expect some electric instruments - in this case Weston playing a Fender Rhodes piano on some of the selections. Critics will no doubt argue as to whether the electric piano detracts from the music, but personally I find no problem with it (maybe it's simply because I'm a child of the 1970s); where there will be no argument is on the compositions and performances, which are rock solid. The CD added the alternative takes of "Sweet Meat".

These sessions were recorded May 21 - May 22, 1973 and originally issued on Polydor that same year (catalogue # 5055). Verve reissued the album in CD form in 1995. Currently it's out of print.

All discographical information courtesy of Randy Weston's website and AMG.

Randy Weston - Piano, Fender Rhodes
Ernie Royal - Trumpet, Flugelhorn
Ray Copeland - Trumpet, Flugelhorn
Jon Faddis - Trumpet, Flugelhorn
Al Grey - Trombone
Jack Jeffers - Baritone Trombone
Julius Watkins - French-Horn
Norris Turney - Alto Sax, Picolo
Budd Johnson - Tenor Sax, Soprano Sax, Clarinet
Billy Harper - Tenor Sax, Flute
Danny Bank - Baritone Sax, Baritone Clarinet, Flute
Ron Carter - Bass
Rudy Collins - Drums
Azzedin Weston - Percussion
Candido Camero - Percussion, Narrator
Omar Clay - Marimba, Timbales
Taiwo Yusve Divall - Alt Sax, Ashiko Drums
Earl Williams - Percussion
Ahmed-Abdul Malik - Oud, Narrator (on 7)
Delores Ivory Davis - Vocal (on 8)

Melba Liston arranger, director

1. Hi-Fly
2. In Memory Of
3. Sweet Meat
4. Jamaica East
5. Sweet Meat (First Alternative Take)
6. Tanjah
7. The Last Day
8. Sweet Meat (Second Alternative Take)
9. Little Niles

TANJAH original LP. liner notes

Pianist-composer-lecturer Randy Weston was born and raised in Brooklyn, NY and began playing piano professionally in the early 1950's, During his career he has won international acclaim as an instrumentalist, and performed in alt major jazz clubs in New York and other U.S. cities as well as all major cities in North and West Africa. He has appeared on major television shows and extensive radio program throughout Africa and the U.S. He's performed in colleges and universities throughout the world, and is generally not duly credited with being the first to conceive and perform a "History of Jazz" concert/lecture programs in schools and libraries in New York City; many other groups are now performing similar programs in New York as well as other cities. He's been the subject of feature articles in the U.S.. France. Africa, and England, and is recognized as a serious, prolific composer.

He has traveled widely in Africa, beginning in 1961 when he made his first trip to Nigeria to perform and lecture under the auspices of the American Society of African Culture. In 1967 Randy and his sextet made a three-month concert tour of fourteen countries in West and North Africa as part of the U.S. State Department's Cultural Presentation program. In 1968 he settled in Morocco and performed throughout Morocco and Tunisia, Togo, the Ivory Coast and Liberia. In 1970 he opened in Tangier at the African Rhythm Cultural Center. In 1972 he was the major force behind the first festival of American, African and Moorish music held in Tangier.

Randy is an articulate spokesman on the pivotal position of African music, dance and other arts in the world cultural scene, on the diversity and importance of Africa's vast musical resources; and on encouraging true cultural exchange and mutual learning between creative artists.

Two of Randy's strongest influences have been his father, who insisted that Randy take piano lessons at an early age, and his son (Niles) Azzedin, who has traveled with him throughout Africa. Azzedin plays the African conga drums, incorporating many of the traditional African rhythms, Randy credits his playing as the major force behind the rhythms of his music.

Randy has recorded more than a dozen albums throughout his 20-year career.
Tanjah Is his first album on the Polydor label.

Melba Liston is a warm, sensitive woman of enormous musical talents. She is an arranger of the first order, and also a fine trombonist. She has distinguished herself solidly in the music field with an impressive array of credits.

Starting as a trombonist in the pit orchestra of the Lincoln Theater In her native Los Angeles in 1943, Miss Liston worked her way through bands such as Gerald Wilson, Dizzy Gillespie, and Quincy Jones during the '950's. In 1958 she toured Europe with Quincy Jones's hand as arranger, trombonist, and actress in the Arlen-Mercer musical Free and Easy. Upon returning to the Stales she became a freelance arranger for Riverside Records, arranging for Milt Jackson, Randy Weston, Gloria Lynne, and Johnny Griffin, to name a few.

She also arranged albums for such famous Motown Records artists as Marvin Gaye, Billy Eckstine, and The Supremes.

In 1967 Melba co-led the dark Terry Big Band. At the same time she was associated with Etoile Productions as an arranger for Duke Ellington, Jon Lucien, Solomon Burke, Tony Bennett, and the Buffalo Symphony Orchestra. In 1968 she lent her talents as a trombone teacher at Pratt Institute Youth-in-Action Orchestra in Brooklyn, as well as to the Harlem Back Street Youth Orchestra, In recent years she has divided her time between her work with youth orchestras in the Los Angeles Watts area, and arranging for Count Basle, Abbey Lincoln, Duke Ellington, and Diana Ross.

Tanjah marks a happy reunion for Miss Liston and Randy Weston, for whom she has arranged four other albums.

Randy Weston is a true original. He's a thoroughly creative artist - one who possesses that rare quality of being a creator of art, as opposed to an interpreter of art.

He is in tune with nature and he creates music out of the depths of the rhythms of life. The primary qualities of his music are fire, spirit, strength, unabashed earthiness, and total individuality. His compositions are not intimidated by time. His percussive style of playing the piano pushes the rhythms out front, and underneath the earthiness, he cooks. He makes his band cook with intense drive. His band on this album was hand-picked, and their infectious joy In playing together is obvious on every cut of this album.

Randy feels that music is a universal language, and that African rhythms have dominated many lands and influenced many languages. ' He contends that African rhythms contain ingredients of melody and beat that are the basis of all popular music of today. His own music bears testimony to this contention,

Side one of the album opens with an updated Latin-flavored arrangement of Hi Fly.
Candido, inspired by the essence of the tune. offers some spontaneous rap In Cuban-Spanish which translates:

"...We're gonna fly high.
It's a pretty flight, and away we go.
Only up, up and higher -
watch and listen.
Randy Weston, he's going high and his is right there, baby"

Up there is right where Jon Faddis, a brilliant 19-year old trumpet virtuoso, takes the tune with his soaring solo.

In Memory Of was inspired by the ritual of the African funeral procession, which is very sad on the way to the burial grounds, but afterward, on the way back, the band starts swinging. This version of the march has a heavy African rock blues beat, with Ron Carter laying down a steady drone bass line that creates the spirit of the event. Both Ray Copeland and Al Grey offer fine solos using the growl technique, a sound seldom heard today but commonly used by oldtime brass players.

Sweet Meat personifies what Randy describes as a saucy, spicy, African chick with a very hip, unbelievably swinging walk. Sometimes she's sophisticated, sometimes she's funny. She could be found in ihe Congo, Harlem, or Mississippi. Melba Liston's flowing arrangement provides an elegant tilting cushion for the reeds out front. The mood of the tune conjures up shades of Basie and dancing cheek to cheek.

Jamaica East is the musical story of a beautiful five-day journey by Randy and his family to Jamaica. He was immediately inspired by the lush beauty of the island, the warmth and hospitality of the people, and their rich cultural heritage. Profoundly inspiring was his acquaintance with relatives who are natives of Kingston, and the discovery of family in Stokes Hall, St. Thomas. Randy's melody captures the rhythms that are Jamaica, and Miss Liston's exciting arrangement captures the spirit of carnival, dance, and song.

Side two opens with the title tune Tanjah, which is Arabic for Tangier, where Randy makes his home. The rhythm la based on the music of the peoples of North Africa, specifically Morocco. Tanjah was inspired by the festival held in Tangier in 1972, which represented a very significant step in bringing about communication through music between artists of different countries, albeit of the same African heritage. Moreover, the festival was the realization of a dream for Randy - the product of months of hard work and energy expended by many people both in Tangier and New York. Three stars of that festival are featured on this tune. Billy Harper, Azzedin, and Ahmed Abdul-Malik. Malik sets the mood as he relates in Arabic the feeling of brotherhood experienced by the artists - Moroccan and American - who appeared In the festival:

". . . Peace be upon you, brothers. Welcome my brothers. Greetings. All praises due to God for everything around us."

The Last Day is a beautiful, moving ballad which expresses Randy's musical impression of the last day on earth - when the heavens open, the power of the Creator appears, and the world gets down on its knees and prays. The warm, magnificently flawless voice of Delores Davis is heard here on record for the first time; Ernie Royal takes the lead with a standout solo.

Little Niles was written twenty years ago by Randy for his son, and stands out as the most famous of his jazz waltzes- It was then, and still is, dedicated to children everywhere.

Although many different rhythms and beats are displayed throughout this album,
the essence for Randy all stems from Africa.

This is why he calls his music "African rhythms".

1973 Mari Jo Johnson
Liner notes to the 1995 CD reissue:

In the late Fifties to early Sixties, it was all in the air:
the Civil Rights Movement, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King ...
we had that kind of energy,
and it inspired me to compose what was in the air.

The following are excerpts of an interview of Randy Weston conducted in April 1995 by Mari Jo Johnson.

I listened to Tanjah recently and it still sounds current, timeless. What do you think accounts for this? Do you attribute this to your music being classic or traditional in the true sense?

I just listened to it with Melba Liston and we suddenly realized: It's as if no time went by at all. This is the kind of music that is both traditional and modern. There has not been a big change [for me] musically at all.

[But times are changing;] I've never felt African spirituality as strong as I have recently, in many things I see. I see children playing the African drum in America. I see exhibitions of sculpture; I see more bookshops and more people aware of African writers and African-Caribbean writers. Mother Africa, for me. Is asserting herself and I'm part of that current. Anybody involved with the spirit and culture of the real Africa today, in spite of all the negative things, has got to be inspired: We're coming together globally after having been separated for centuries.

What about playing solo piano as opposed to playing with sidemen?

With solo piano you're no longer a pianist, you're a storyteller. You have to tell stories, you have to paint pictures, you have to create sculpture, you have to recite poetry with the instrument. You take people on different voyages, to different worlds. So the piano, already an orchestra, becomes a moving orchestra; you can go to Brazil and Italy and Harlem.

[This feeling was] strengthened by being in Africa, because traditional musicians there are historians and storytellers. When they're playing a song, they're keeping a certain story alive. The piano becomes a traditional African instrument:
The musicians tell a story so we can never forget. If I'm telling a story about Duke Ellington, a tribute to him. It's not just his song I'm playing: I'm protecting the Spirit of Duke Ellington. I'm letting the people know they can never forget this man.

I want to tell different stories now. I want to tell about certain heroes of mine in Africa, but I have not had the time to compose a melody or a rhythm. For example, Cheikh Anta Diop is one of my heroes, and I want to write some music for him but It hasn't happened yet- I want to do more portraits.

Has there been a certain time in your career when there was an outpouring of several new compositions?

Oh, definitely, the late Fifties to early Sixties was a very explosive period for me, the most active period for writing compositions. I don't compose as I used to, maybe because I'm playing more piano now. It sounds funny, it sounds contrary in a way. bill since I've been playing more solo piano, the ideas don't come for compositions as they used to. In the late Fifties to early Sixties, it was all in the air: the Civil Rights Movement, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King ... we had that kind of energy, and it inspired me to compose what was in the air.

Your association with Melba Liston goes back to the Fifties, when you were both with Riverside Records. What has been her role in the Randy Weston big-band sound?

Melba is incredible; she hears what I do and then expands it. She will create a melody that sounds like I created it; she's just a great, great arranger.
Melba has had tremendous big-band experience, she has traveled a lot, and she knows a lot more about musicians than I do. So whenever we do a date, we always sit and talk about the musicians we want for our band. For each recording I have a certain sound that I hear for a particular instrument, and a certain musician has a particular sound that I would like for that song - and Melba's, the same way. She picked Ernie Royal. and she reintroduced me to Budd Johnson and Quentin Jackson, her buddies. Whenever [Melba and 1] had a big band. when they were alive, we'd always start off with them and build from there.

We never said it directly, but we both knew that to do a recording we would want to have the older musicians to give us that foundation, and then we would get the younger musicians on top. The older musicians have the know-how; they know all the secrets, things that we don't know about music. Melba always made sure that we would have that kind of base.

The musicians for this dais were hand-picked and the cream of the crop of those residing in New York City at the time. Talk about them and why you picked each one.

Ray Copeland and I go back together; we were in a band in Brooklyn when we were seventeen years old. He was my original arranger when we had the small group. Ray was a featured trumpeter at Radio City Music Hall at the same time he was making gigs with me, in the Fifties and early Sixties. He was really a wonderful trumpet player and we were very close.

I heard Jon Faddis play - well, I'd never heard a young man play trumpet like that before — I heard him when he was nineteen years old, When Melba and I were putting the band together, we said we needed somebody who [could] hit those high notes. Jon's playing was way up there, in the stratosphere. It was really Hi-Fly

I had not worked with Ernie Royal before. But the solo he took on The Last Day is just an absolute masterpiece. All of these elder musicians had such beautiful tones [on] their instruments.

I remember Julius Watkins when he and Charlie Rouse had their own group. Julius was one of those foundations I mentioned before: When we were putting a big band together, one of the first persons we spoke about was Julius A master French horn player.

Al Grey was on Uhuru Afrika, which we did [for Roulette] in 1960, I'll never forget meeting Al in Paris years ago; it was a big rally for some political party and we did "Hi-Fly" as a ballad. His playing almost made people cry.

Norris Turney took over Johnny Hodges's place with Duke's band, and although he doesn't sound like Hodges, he has that romantic, beautiful, big, pretty sound. It reminded me how, growing up, listening to my heroes, I could identify everybody by his sound. Morris's sound on Sweet Meat is just so thrilling; three different versions that he plays entirely differently. I don't like Fender Rhodes but I try to do something different on each version.

The first time I heard Billy Harper was with Max Roach's group, and I just fell in love with him right away. He has that kind of energy, the kind of power Booker Ervin had, he doesn't play like Booker but he's got that Texas fire, a dynamic, energetic sound, that challenges.

Danny Bank, the baritone player, took care of business on this date. It was my first time working with him.

Budd Johnson, another foundation, a great saxophone player and arranger, a wonderful person, too; I remember Budd when he was with Earl Hines. Earl had a piece, "Second Balcony Jump", and Budd was featured on it. I also met him through Melba, and she and I would always try to get him whenever we put together a big band.

Ahmed Abdul-Malik and I also grew up together. Ahmed exposed me to North African and Arab music. He was the first one to really bring Middle Eastern music and jazz together. When we were young we used to get put out of bands, because we were always trying to find funny notes to play, the notes in between notes. He was on my first tour, when I went to Nigeria in 1961.

Ron Carter and I go back to the Fifties, when he played with my trio; we used to work in the Berkshires. His bass work is just incredible on this particular date; he plays so beautifully — just a great musician!

Candido was the real master, from Cuba, I worked with him for three years or more - I had become exposed to African-Cuban drumming when I heard Chano Pozo, whom Candido succeeded. Really a true master drummer. Having him and Azzedin together was just fantastic.

My son, Azzedin Weston, has a unique style of drumming, having [listened] to popular music in the late Fifties and early Sixties and having traveled to Africa with me. He also studied with Sticks Evans, a wonderful teacher of drums and percussion, and also his own talent nurtured in
Morocco. Azzedin, I can truly say. is an original on the conga drums.

Rudy Collins. a superb musician, was one of the very top big-band drummers: he could handle everything.

Delores Ivory Davis had a beautiful, priceless voice and was a great pleasure to work with.
Ray, Ernie, and Rudy . . . they're no longer with us; they are really missed. They were deep brothers and great musicians.

This music sounds very fresh because of its rhythms. We were paying a lot of attention to the rhythm a long time ago, playing music that was very strong and very rhythmic. People weren't ready for the African direction. Now people have caught up with this music.

This music is like the traditional music of Africa, it's timeless. When you go into the village and you hear the music there, you realize the real music is timeless.

1995 Mari Jo Johnson.
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