Randy Weston

Plays Cole Porter in a Modern Mood

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Cole Porter tributes are a dime a dozen in the bop world. Although competently executed, many of them lack imagination. But back in 1954 -- when a 28-year-old Randy Weston recorded Randy Weston Plays Cole Porter in a Modern Mood -- saluting Porter wasn't an idea that beboppers had run into the ground and beaten to death. It was still an intriguing idea, and the element of intrigue is definitely present on this record (which contains Weston's first session as a leader). Forming a drumless duo with bassist Sam Gill, the pianist tackles eight well-known Porter standards. And he does it on his own terms, bringing a strong Thelonious Monk influence (with elements of Bud Powell) to angular performances of "I Love You," "Night and Day," and other favorites. Even in 1954, these standards had been recorded countless times by swing, pre-rock pop, and cabaret artists. But for a bebopper like Weston, Porter's songbook was still fertile ground. In the 1960s and 1970s, when Weston was exploring modal post-bop and incorporating elements of world music, some beboppers would become the stodgy, stuffy, cranky old conservatives who cursed anything having to with modal playing, avant-garde jazz or fusion. But in 1954, bop was still dangerous and cutting-edge (although it was more accepted than it had been in the 1940s). This Riverside LP was produced by Orrin Keepnews, which is appropriate because Keepnews worked with Monk extensively and understood an equally intellectual player like Weston. Not that Weston was ever a knee-jerk clone of Monk or anyone else; as Monk-minded as he was in 1954, he was still his own man. With Randy Weston Plays Cole Porter in a Modern Mood, the pianist's career as a leader was off to an impressive start.

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