Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Monty Alexander’s New Live Album: Yeah Mon!

In case you haven’t heard, Monty Alexander has a new live album out. More elegant and urbane but no less fun than his ecstatic, paradigm-shaping reggae-jazz albums like 1995’s Yard Movement and 2004’s Rocksteady, this new one, Harlem-Kingston Express Live, is a vivid reminder why artists as diverse as Tony Bennett and Ernest Ranglin have sought him out as a collaborator. Shifting effortlessly between bustling swing and a deep roots reggae groove, the iconic Jamaican jazz pianist is backed by two different bands – a roots reggae unit, as well as a jazz trio with rhythm section and guitar. Recorded both at Dizzy’s Club at New York’s Jazz at Lincoln Center as well as on tour over the previous few years, the production is remarkably fat for a live performance, particularly perfect for the reggae numbers. For the straight-up jazz tunes, the group here includes Hassan Shakur on bass, Obed Calvaire on drums and Yotam Silberstein on guitar, while the electric reggae unit typically features Andy Bassford on guitar, Hoova Simpson on bass guitar, Karl Wright on drums and Robert Thomas on percussion. Sometimes, though, Alexander flips the script, allowing each group to explore their counterparts’ territory, with surprising and rewarding results.

Strawberry Hill, one of Alexander’s most popular hybrid compositions, is done tersely and not a little suspensefully, big block chords laying the foundation for some tiptoeing lyrical excursions. By contrast, the version of High Heel Sneakers fades up jauntily, Alexander literally leading a charge, leaving the boogie bass to the rhythm section as he gets the piano humming with overtones before diving back into the blues. King Tubby Meets the Rockers Uptown leaps from the classic drum-n-bass vamp to a sprint, it don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing after all…and then they’re right back where they started.

Eleuthera, another Alexander signature song, gets a laid-back but lively reggae bounce. They pick up the pace with a lickety-split, surprisingly lighthearted romp through Sweet Georgia Brown, Silberstein taking over where Alexander leaves off, while Freddie Freeloader gets a tongue-in-cheek disco groove. But the gravitas of the solo piano intro to Milt Jackson’s Compassion doesn’t dissipate even as the slinky reggae riddim comes in (that’s Bernard Montgomery on melodica, in case you’re wondering how Alexander can play two keyboards at once).

There are three Bob Marley tunes here, and they’re the real showstoppers. The Heathen reminds why Alexander is equally admired in the jazz and jamband worlds, as it constantly changes shape from brightly lyrical reggae, to a bustling bop interlude…with a little melodica, and stark bowed bas when least expected. Running Away winds in casually but matter-of-factly, Alexander keeping it pointed and biting just like the original. They swing out of it with a silvery Silberstein solo, Alexander firing off a big chromatically-charged climb to take it out on a high note. No Woman No Cry is quite a bit faster than the original, quickly becoming a launching pad for some typically wry Alexander allusions that the band picks up on – his wit’s in rare form, and the fun is contagious. Another album, another victory for Commander Zander. It’s out now on Motéma.

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August 12, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, reggae music, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 8/10/10

Every day, we count down the 1000 best albums of all time all the way to #1. Tuesday’s album is #903:

Ernest Ranglin – Wranglin’

The preeminent Jamaican guitarist, Ernest Ranglin had led probably hundreds if not thousands of calypso and ska sessions by the time he recorded this album, only the second where he’d been credited as a bandleader. The original 1964 Island Records lp did not sell well and has been out of print for decades, but is happily still available as a bootleg, if a somewhat dodgy sounding one. Ranglin’s career began almost fifty years, during the age of calypso yard sessions (and the birth of what would become hip-hop twenty-five years later). He was probably in the studio, maybe playing, when Lloyd Knibb of the Skatalites invented the one-drop, which would transform ska into rocksteady and then into reggae. Ranglin served as Jimmy Cliff’s musical director throughout his 70s heyday, then mined a frequently transcendent reggae-jazz collaboration with pianist Monty Alexander in the 80s and 90s. Now almost eighty, he retains the vigor and vitality of a player fifty years younger. This album shows how developed his jazzy, Les Paul-influenced style had become by the early sixties, replete with whispery, lightning-fast filigrees that switch in a split-second into frenetic tremolo chords and then back again. Here he sticks with a straight-up 4/4 beat, taking British bassist Malcolm Cecil and drummer Alan Ganley into the Caribbean sun for a characteristically warm, expansive jaunt through a mix of originals and old mento standards like Linstead Market and Angelina. You can download it here.

August 10, 2010 Posted by | jazz, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment