Spirit! The Power of Music

Randy Weston

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Spirit! The Power of Music Review

by Thom Jurek

This live concert was a reunion celebration between pianist/composer Randy Weston and the Gnawa Master Musicians of Morocco, who recorded together eight years before for the Verve album The Splendid Master Gnawa Musicians of Morocco. It took place in Brooklyn in September of 2000 and is a remarkable document. The program is kicked off with a Weston solo feature followed by trio and quintet pieces (including bassist Alex Blake, trombonist Benny Powell, percussionist Neil Clarke, and flutist and saxophonist Talib Kibwe), before the Gnawa Musicians of Marrakech and the Gnawa Musicians of Tanger join the proceedings. Each grouping is given a solo piece expressing the musicians' individual gifts as performers. Weston's long piano solo, "Receiving the Spirit," is augmented by his band in various settings before Blake and Clarke work in a trio setting called "Hag'Houge" and perform a stunning duet of Pan-African and Latin rhythms. This leads into long works by each group of Gnawa musicians before all the ensembles close the concert with a 17-minute traditional piece entitled "Lalla Mira." It is on this last selection that the listener realizes that, in spite of the consummate delight at what has transpired already, the best was saved for last: these three groupings of musicians as an ensemble and as improvising soloists transcend all cultural barriers and come together to form something truly new, haunting, and full of beauty, power, and transformation. It is as if the "sound" that comes from the stage were the elevation of a single prayer being offered simultaneously not only by those performing, but by the audience as well. Listening to this concert on a CD player does not protect one from being enveloped by this experience, this sacred moment in which all literally becomes one. The level of communication is not to be evaluated because it is total. Everything is symbiotic and automatic; boundaries do not dissolve -- they cease to exist. This set goes so much farther than Weston's previous studio recording that this is the only one that now matters.

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