The piano is, simultaneously, a melodic, harmonic and percussive instrument, and Randy Weston makes extensive use of all those characteristics. Making a rare solo appearance at the Jazz Bakery, the veteran performer (he will be 69 next month) gave a no-distractions, no-nonsense demonstration of his mastery of the piano as a full-fledged orchestral instrument that is fully capable of sounding like an entire jazz ensemble.
In his opening set Thursday night, Weston played only two extended works: a kind of mini-suite history of jazz tunes ranging from Duke Ellington to Thelonious Monk, and a medley of two of his waltzes, "Little Niles" and "Pam's Waltz." Curiously, he included none of the African-influenced music that has dominated his interests for the last several decades.
The mini-suite, perhaps appropriately for a descriptive vehicle covering a vast array of eras and styles, had its ups and downs. In its more gripping moments, Weston uncorked a rush of rhythm and sound, with familiar tunes--"Caravan," "It Don't Mean a Thing," "Night in Tunisia"--cresting above a torrential stream of notes. At other times, he dipped into grooving, straight-ahead stride piano, often contrasting its even rhythms with sudden, colorful bursts across the keyboard. But there also were periods when Weston's momentum seemed to slow, and he fell back upon random, out of focus pianistics before once again putting his flow into high gear.
On the waltzes, the rich harmonic side of Weston's art was revealed. Blessed with a capacity to create simple, but entrancing themes over lush chordal foundations, he offered up some of his most attractive work--ample testimony to the ability of a complex musical mind to produce warm, communicative music.
* Randy Weston at the Jazz Bakery, 3233 Helms Ave., Culver City. (310) 271-9039. Tonight at 8:30. $20.