A tasty musical stew from Randy Weston…
Randy Weston – African Cookbook – Atlantic/ PurePleasure PPAN SD1609 – stereo vinyl (1964) ****:
(Randy Weston – piano, celeste; Ray Copeland – trumpet, Flugelhorn, arranger; Booker Ervin – tenor sax; Vishnu Wood – bass; Lenny McBrowne – drums; Big Black – congas, vocal on “Congolese Children”; Sir Harold Murray – percussion)
It is quite surprising that Randy Weston could not find a label to release his 1964 recording, African Cookbook. It features the superb tenor saxist, Booker Ervin, as well as trumpeter, Ray Copeland, who ably handled the arrangements. The music was very approachable and combined straight ahead jazz in a bluesy vein along with African rhythms provided by Big Black and Sir Harold Murray. Weston had to issue the album himself on his small label, Bakton. Eight years later, Atlantic Records made the smart decision to give a wider reception to the album and it met wide acceptance.
PurePleasure Records, out of England, who recognize historical quality in their reissue series, recently decided to provide an audiophile upgrade to 180 gm vinyl using their ace mastering engineer Ray Staff. The acoustics are superb and the percussion and horns benefit, as well as the big band presence mix on the tracks where Big Black and Sir Harold Murray spice up the proceedings.
There is much to like here. Copeland’s arrangements take full advantage of Ervin’s passionate tenor sax (as well as his own trumpet mastery). “Berkshire Blues” has great ensemble work and is a real toe tapper. The same can be said for “Willie’s Tune” as its catchy theme would have made great airplay on jazz radio. Copeland soars and Weston punctuates with spirited responses. “Niger Mambo” uses African rhythms to spur on Ray Copeland’s trumpet.
The title track, at over twelve minutes, is the standout. Heavy in percussion, Weston sets the theme for the horns. You’ll find exotic North African influences here. I sensed a minaret call to prayer. Copeland’s arrangement is intriguing, and with only seven musicians there is still a big band presence. “Congolese Children” is only two minutes long but we get to experience Weston on celeste and Big Black on vocals. “Blues for Five Reasons” features a fine bass solo from Vishnu Woods and a response piano riff from Randy.
This is a fine sonic upgrade from PurePleasure, and the aural pleasures provided by Weston and company hold up well over fifty years later.
Side 1: Berkshire Blues, Portrait of Vivian, Willie’s Tune, Niger Mambo
Side 2: African Cookbook, Congolese Children, Blues for Five Reasons
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