Monty Alexander has been one of the most popular pianists in jazz for over 50 years. Early on, his prodigious technique and wide-ranging style garnered comparisons with the great Oscar Peterson. But there has always been another side to Alexander’s playing. Usually jazz grabs the upper hand, but on occasion he digs deep into his Jamaican roots.
The 1974 We’ve Only Just Begun recording signals the beginning of Jamaican pianist Monty Alexander’s fruitful relationship with MPS, lasting over a decade and encompassing some dozen albums. On many he partners with no one else than fellow Jamaican and one of the fathers of ska, guitarist Ernest Ranglin (Rass!, Estade, Monty Strikes Again or Untitled/Monty Alexander – Ernest Ranglin).
So far, two of his MPS albums have been picked to be reissued on vinyl and CD. Let’s have a look:
Here Comes The Sun
Listen or buy: https://MPS.lnk.to/ma_herecomesthesun
As mentioned, this 1971 recording is Monty Alexander’s first recording for MPS. Originally touted as heir to Oscar Peterson’s crown, Alexander is famous for his virtuoso melding of jazz, the sounds of the Caribbean and blues. The classic Dave Brubeck Quartet’s bassist Eugene Wright, calypso percussionist Montego Joe, and ace drummer Duffy Jackson round out the quartet. Montevideo jumps off with percussive Latin two-beat verve and a witty piano filled with quotes. The ballad Where is Love is a searching romantic serenade, and Monty transforms the Beatle’s Here Comes The Sun into blues-laced Latinesque with a taste of boogie. Monty takes the standard Love Walked In at a brisk pace as he demonstrates his considerable straight-ahead jazz chops, bop quotes and all. Check out the tasty walking bass and drum solos. The luscious calypso Brown Skin Girl is followed by Monty’s tender, wistful solo rendition of his The Dream Is Mine. The group stretches out on Miles Davis’ iconic So What, grounding the tune with a driving Latin-rock beat. They say variety is the spice of life and Monty Alexander and co. have seasoned this album to perfection.
Montreux Alexander – The Monty Alexander Trio Live At The Montreux Festival
Listen or buy: https://MPS.lnk.to/AlexanderMontreux
This live recording on the shores of Lake Geneva rates quite simply as one of the classic piano trio albums of the 1970’s as well as a milestone in the Jamaican pianist’s musical life. The 1976 recording captures the moment in his early career that Alexander attained the level of such giants as Oscar Peterson. Alexander’s playing combines the virtuosity of his Canadian colleague with Caribbean ardor and a dash of gospel. Bassist John Clayton and drummer Jeff Hamilton were relatively unknown at that time, yet they formed a rhythm section that could stand on their own, capable of creating incisive solo spaces. The music invariably captivates the listener, whether it’s the album’s opening piece, an Ahmad Jamal composition with inspired blues variations, the soulful contemplation on Feelings, the dreamy, relaxed improvisation on You Make Me Feel Brand New, or the wild chase on Montevideo. The trio exudes an exuberant sense of swing in Ellington’s Satin Doll, and plays the gospel Drown in My Own Tears with a sublime earthiness. Laboring in its near-to-archaic atmosphere, Work Song seems the perfect vehicle for Clayton to display his virtuosity. With its mischievous and at the same time genial dramaturgy, the Battle Hymn of the Republic is singled out as a “classic”. After four and a half decades, the magic of a night in Montreux is still within reach.