WBGO Radar

Randy Weston & Billy Harper: The Roots Of The Blues

cover of Randy Weston & Billy Harper's CD The Roots Of The Blues

When two top creative forces in jazz come together, the sum can be greater than its parts. This is true on The Roots of the Blues, which pairs Brooklyn-born pianist Randy Weston with Texas tenor Billy Harper.

Weston incorporates Cole Porter, Duke Ellington, the Motherland, and even the rumble of Brooklyn’s D train into his sound; Harper, who cut his musical teeth in a Houston high school marching band, played with distinction in the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra and with Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers.

The cross-pollination of these musical spirits began in 1972 in Tangiers, Morocco, at a festival organized by Weston. Two years later, they met again and recorded a session at Switzerland’s Montreux Jazz Festival, and their conversation has continued on many sessions after that.

40 years after their first encounter, Randy and Billy entered a New York studio and emerged with The Roots of the Blues. This is the duet session they share with us now, and on CD through the Sunnyside label on November 19.

The opener, "Carnival," was written by Weston to preserve African folklore in the New World. First recorded by the pair in Montreux, this reprise is a fresh take and a fresh exploration of African/American musical interchanges.

"Berkshire Blues" is probably Randy Weston's best-known composition. After stating the theme, Weston and Harper go hand and reed to discover new territory to obvious mutual delight.

When the 13-year-old Weston first heard Coleman Hawkins' seminal 1939 recording of "Body and Soul," he bought three copies so there would never be a looming threat of wearing one out. The version here is a nod back with respect to that moment of musical discovery.

Listening to Harper’s compositions can be a truly spiritual experience. It's the quality of his intent, going in and going on, which captures a listener. “If One Could Only See," first written for a quintet and captured on his brilliant 1990 release Destiny Is Yours, showcases Harper alone, still plaintively hoping that soul improvement can happen through music.

The map for Randy Weston and Billy Harper has no legend. One minute you are traveling with them bluesfully back to Africa, and reaching for the roots of the Nile. And before you realize it, you're back in New York City, riding Strayhorn's A Train.

Randy Weston and Billy Harper know how to travel. Any we're lucky they are generous in their artistry to take us along. After a listen, I'm sure you'll be interested to know they'll be doing this music live at New York’s Iridium on November 27th.

All aboard...

Click to hear Randy and Billy's live concert and chat with Rhonda Hamilton at WBGO on Nov. 13.

This album audio is no longer available. To preview and purchase tracks, visit iTunes or Amazon.

    - Gary Walker, WBGO music director

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