In a rare Southland appearance, Randy Weston unleashed a torrent of often volcanic solo piano at the Jazz Bakery, confirming what his recent renaissance on records had been promising.
Since 1989, Weston, who turns 69 in April, has been busy distilling the essence of his jazz and North African music explorations on an absorbing series of Verve and Antilles albums.
A solo piano album will be coming out in May.
Weston is an imposing figure (about 6-foot-7), almost too dominating for the modest Bakery stage.
Fittingly, he has a formidable piano style to match, one rooted in Thelonious Monk and the boogie-woogie but wildly unpredictable and completely his own.
Familiar tunes — Duke Ellington’s “Caravan,” Dizzy Gillespie’s “Con Alma,” even his own classic “Hi-Fly”– emerged and submerged like underground streams amid bursts of convoluted rhythms, stabbing dissonances and romping grooves.
He loved to set up growling walking bass lines at the extreme end of the Bakery’s Yamaha piano, which was nearly a match for the mighty Boesendorfer instruments he uses on his albums.
While Weston’s first set consisted of just two stream-of-consciousness rambles, the numbers in his second set were more concise in structure, more explicitly in touch with spiritual influences, and more insistently in the groove.
Opening the second half with the North African-inspired “The Healers,” Weston tapped into a particularly deep incantatory vein, punctuated by overwhelming descending swells in the bass — and the set took flight from there.
But for all the spiritual intent, there was humor in Weston’s sound world too , as the madcap, flamboyantly boisterous encore “Magic Mambo” demonstrated.