At around eight PM on the second Thursday in April, Randy Weston takes the stage at Yoshi's to begin a four-night run at the intimate Oakland, California club. Weston hasn’t performed in the Bay Area in recent years save at large halls festivals, so this is a rare chance to see this accomplished octogenerian master of the jazz piano at close range. He has invited a very special guest for this gig: legendary tenor saxophonist Billy Harper. Originally from Texas, Harper has played with the likes of Gil Evans, Max Roach and Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. And the sax player is known for his work with Randy Weston as well. Weston himself first came to notice during the 1950s. and has long been known for his interest in African music. He has performed in Africa and lived in Morocco, which happens to be where he and his group had just flown in from.
Randy - who plays whatever tunes come into his head each set - commences with an extended solo which serves to introduce "Carnival," a tune that, appropriately, Weston originally recorded live at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1975, a date where Billy Harper was on tenor.
Weston - with his lanky frame, grey moustache, and customary white cap with black embroidery - sits to stage right in front of a black grand piano. Alex Blake is next to him on stage is Bass player. Blake, who plays seated, thumbs his bass at a 45-degree angle. During the course of both sets, Blake will wildly pluck his bass, thumb it across the bridge, and vocalize. African percussionist Neil Clarke sits behind a set of congos, cymbals, and other percussion instruments. During the course of two sets, he chants, employs unique instruments (such as wooden balls with seeds inside), and plays his battery of African drum and congas both with sticks and with hands.
Weston continues next with a glorious solo version of Fats Waller’s "Jitterbug Waltz." "Little Nile," a searing "African Cookbook," and Ghanian Guy Warren’s "Mystery of Love," the group’s concluding coda, round out the first set.
Randy and the group begin the late show with "Berkshire Blues" which is followed by "African Sunrise." Then, the "Beauty of It All" features a smooth Harper sax solo. Neil introduces a wonderful version of "Blue Moses" by invoking the audience to clap in time. The set concludes, once again, with "Mystery of Love" and, sadly, it’s time to go home.