Hot on the heels of Stir It Up, his popular Bob Marley tribute album, Jamaican pianist Monty Alexander has joined forces with reggae's most famous rhythm section, Sly Dunbar (drums) and Robbie Shakespeare (bass).
While Stir It Up offered jazz versions of reggae songs, this follow-up studio release delivers reggae versions of familiar jazz numbers with a couple of soul covers thrown in. The music is radio friendly, but the beats are mechanical. And unfortunately, Alexander displays little of the improvisational artistry found on his superb straight-ahead albums or his calypso-jazz recordings Ivory and Steel, Caribbean Circle or his reggae-jazz work on Ernest Ranglin's Below the Bass line.
This collaboration does yield a few nice moments, however. "Soulful Strut" is given an irresistible island groove and "Mercy Mercy" adapts well to the reggae interpretation. "Moanin'" is likably funky, and Alexander does get jazzy on "In Crowd." But the latter is hampered by machine-generated beats that sound like explosions in a video game.
Unfortunately, my complaints about this album hold true for most contemporary reggae. Since the dub style became dominant in the '80s, technology and production have overwhelmed the vast majority of recent reggae recordings, rendering many of them soulless.
To be fair, Sly and Robbie are masters of the dub style, and they're better than most at making technology sound earthy. Consequently, this CD is a nice piece of ear candy, much like an all-instrumental album by UB40. No doubt it will sell a lot of copies. But it's the least challenging album I've heard from Monty Alexander, so I advise jazz purists to steer clear.