AFTER A decade of famine, fans of jazz pianist Randy Weston have been rewarded with a feast: three quartet albums, recorded on consecutive days in Paris in 1989, devoted to Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk and Weston's original works.
Common threads run throughout the triptych. For starters, the influence Ellington had on Monk, both as a pianist and as a composer, is just as evident here as the impact both musicians have had on Weston. Weston's approach to the piano is often thoughtful, at times even brooding, but it is also rhythmically and harmonically inventive. For another thing, African polyrhythms, often set into motion by the Ghanaian percussionist Eric Asante and, by way of New Orleans, drummer Idris Muhammad, are pivotal to the arrangements. Finally, an air of relaxed spontaneity and open-ended improvisations characterizes all three sessions.
The Ellington portrait is distinguished by the way Weston and his bandmates (who include veteran bassist Jamil Nasser) place "Caravan" and the infectious calypso "Limbo Jazz" in rhythmically primal and compelling settings and put a distinctly offbeat spin on "C Jam Blues" and "Chromatic Love Affair." The Monk portrait opens with a bold and decidedly funky reworking of "Well You Needn't" and later finds Weston exploring (and often reveling in) the corkscrew melodies and jarring harmonies of "Misterioso," "Ruby My Dear" and "I Mean You."
And finally there is "Self Portraits," an opportunity for Weston to honor his father, Frank Edward Weston, with a vigorously rhythmic tribute, and for the band to bring its shrewd and colorful synthesis to bear on the darkly introspective ballad "African Night" and the vibrant bass and drum serenade "Ganawa in Paris."