The task of listening to all three of these CDs led by the great pianist Monty Alexander (actually four, Steaming Hot being a double disc) is both pleasurable and daunting. There's a "something for everyone type of quality: great for a person that you would like to interest in jazz because of their "good times feel; good for students of the music who would be sure to find a goldmine of techniques and approaches on a wide variety of material; not to mention for the general jazz listener who wants to check into the work of one of the established masters.
In Tokyo (recorded in '79), which I'd recommend most, starts with "Broadway , a tune that has become a staple for swing players. Along with Andy Simpkins (bass) and Frank Gant (drums), Alexander burns from note one. Hip, but subtle, sophisticated reharmonizations allow him to play slow burning blues lines or speedy, clear bebop lines, never losing the overall focus of the solo or rhythm section. For "Just In Time the pianist plays the middle section in a register of the instrument that many other pianists have either forgotten or ignored. Again the improvisations burn with honesty and inspiration, perhaps driven by Sonny Rollins' memorable performance of this tune. On "Tricotism , Simpkins, Alexander and Gant (on brushes) play Oscar Pettiford's proto-bop melody in unison with agility and controlled fire. For the improvisations, the cohesive trio moves down a half step; an effect of brightness and surprise occurs when they return to the original key for the final melody statement.
Live at Iridium
Live at the Iridium captures a tight and satisfying quartet club performance. Rather than the fourth member being a horn player, though, it is hand drum artist Robert Thomas, Jr. The hard groovin' version of Nat Adderley's "Work Song gives all members solo space (bassist Hassan Shakur, drummer Mark Taylor and Thomas), though it's pretty much all about Monty with his flawless technique, dramatic dynamics and irrepressible joyous feeling. "My Mother's Eyes is a lovely old ballad, the leader gently pulling the softer tones from the piano. No "monochromaticist he, there's blues, bop and chordal passages reminiscent of Erroll Garner with even a hint of old movie music and all in the service of a very organic and moving interpretation. Alexander's original "The River is gently beautiful, the ensemble playing so sensitively you can hear the strings of the piano being plucked like a harp.
Steaming Hot puts the previously released Full Steam Ahead and Steamin' together under one cover. Ray Brown (bass) and again Gant (drums) make for a really powerful swinging trio on the first CD of this set, digging in on "Freddie the Freeloader for starters. It's not only interesting what they do with an established tune, but the "experiments invoke the pleasure principal.
Their performance of Jobim's "Once I Loved has a great contrast built into the arrangement: juxtaposed with the lyric form of the tune, they insert a double-time minor groove against which Alexander plays Moorish sounds. They come back to the Jobim form and then take it out on the double-time groove with the leader strumming on the inside piano strings, finally ending in the major mode (instead of the established minor). A satisfying surprise. The Steamin' portion of Steaming Hot starts with the lovely "Pure Imagination from the movie, Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory: "So shines a good deed in a weary world (a line from the movie that could apply to Alexander's music). The approach of this disc is slightly different; more tracks, each track slightly shorter and more "focused . There are moments of Chicago 12/8 blues, reggae and ballads mixed in with great swinging for which the deep and honest pianist is known.
1 Broadway, 2 Just in Time, 3 Sweet Lady, 4 Tricotism, 5 Never Let Me Go Evans, 6 Montevideo, 7 Pawn Broker, 8 See See Rider,
Monty Alexander Piano, Frank Gant Drums, Andy Simpkins Bass,
Live at Iridium
1 The Work Song Adderley 10:34, 2 Slappin' Alexander 3:25, 3 My Mother's Eyes Baer, Gilbert 7:59, 4 Happylypso/Funji Mama Mitchell 8:19, 5 The River Alexander, Severino 6:23, 6 Runnin' Away Stewart 7:26, 7 Little Darlin' Hefti 7:37, 8 Mount Zanda Alexander 5:25, 9 That's the Way It Is Alexander 4:09
Monty Alexander Piano, Hassan Shakur Bass, Mark Taylor Drums, Robert Thomas, Jr. Drums, Hand Drums
1 Freddie Freeloader Davis 5:22, 2 Once I Loved DeMoraes, Gilbert, Jobim 6:28, 3 Ray's Idea Brown, Fuller 4:21, 4 Because You're Mine Brodszky, Cahn 3:02, 5 (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction Jagger, Richards 2:56, 6 Happy Talk Hammerstein, Rodgers 6:08, 7 Estaté Brighetti, Martino 4:42, 8 Hi-Fly Weston 5:26, 9 Just Friends Klenner, Lewis 3:37, 10 Pure Imagination Bricusse, Newley 3:37, 11 Just a Little Bit Gordon 4:33, 12 Dear Diz Alexander 4:59, 13 3,000 Miles Ago Clayton 7:35, 14 Lively Up Yourself Marley 5:28, 15 Make Believe Hammerstein, Kern 4:47, 16 I'll Never Stop Loving You Brodszky, Cahn 4:00, 17 Maybe September Evans, Faith, Livingston 6:17, 18 Tucker Avenue Stomp Alexander 4:20, 19 Theme from The Pawnbroker Jones, Lawrence 4:35, 20 Honest I Do Abner, Reed 6:39, 21 When You Go Brown 3:07, 22 Young at Heart Leigh, Richards 2:56
Monty Alexander Piano, Ray Brown Bass, Ira Coleman Bass, Frank Gant Drums, Dion Parson Drums