CAMBRIDGE -- Pianist and composer Randy Weston, born in Brooklyn in 1926, is a successor to the musical worlds of Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk. Yet Weston's music, though built upon both men's legacies, reaches even farther back for inspiration. A third musical world permeates his conception: Africa, birthplace of both humankind and music itself.
Thursday night at the Regattabar, Weston's African Rhythms Trio lived up to its name. Weston played the piano as though it were 88 tuned drums. Bassist Alex Blake was a rhythm section unto himself, while Neil Clarke used his bare hands to play an array of African percussion. Their richly layered polyrhythms undergirded the elemental melodies and Spartan architecture of Weston's tunes.
Weston began ''Anu Anu" alone, slowly building to the searching melody, underlining it with authoritative, rumbling bass chords. Then Blake and Clarke joined in, establishing a loping tempo beneath Weston's soaring theme.
The music became quiet, making way for Blake's solo, the first of several that displayed his astounding virtuosity. He started simply, paraphrasing the melody and occasionally singing along with his bass. Soon he began alternating melodic phrases with strummed chords, then built to hyperactive passages in which he strummed, slapped, and plucked almost simultaneously. All the while he never lost the thread of the tune.
Weston began the next number with odd, angular bass figures and stabbing treble notes that resolved into an abstraction of Ellington's ''Caravan." In his hands, this old chestnut became strange and new again, rife with rhythmic displacements and two-fisted dissonances. Clarke's percussion solo was varied, inventive, and melodic. Blake's turn incorporated a shuffle rhythm into the astonishing display.
''Berkshire Blues," was airy and elegant, with Weston's repetitive right hand piano figures shifting from bedrock blues to North African arabesque. ''The Healers" began with high register piano twittering that evoked bird calls, then settled into a slow, mysterious bass line, to almost ritual effect. Weston displayed the rich, bell-like sonorities and punctuating silences that connect him with Ellington and Monk, while Clarke accompanied with shakers and the occasional, effective splash of chimes.
Weston's ''African Cookbook" was a fitting finale. Over Blake's repetitive bass and Clarke's driving percussion, Weston's coiling piano figures gained momentum before spinning off in unexpected directions, building to massive, ringing chords. Clarke's long, engaging solo incorporated chanting and evoked talking drums. Then the monumental theme returned, and the tune came to an end with another flabbergasting burst of Blake.