The Monty Alexander Trio: Toronto, March 5, 2011
March 5, 2011
For a night of swinging blues, in honor of Oscar Peterson, the Monty Alexander Trio was an ideal choice for the continuing series Aspects of Oscar at Toronto, Canada's Royal Conservatory of Music. The regular trio included bassist Hassan (JJ Wiggins) Shakur and drummer Winard Harper.
To kick things off, each musician of the trio was introduced and started playing an easy swin,g one at a time, to warm up the audience. Alexander added some island flavor with a calypso-inspired tune, "Home," which included an engaging solo from Harper. "Pennies from Heaven" paved the way to a tune that started with an inviting reggae motif, Alexander inserting a standard swing for his solo before returning to a bass-accentuated reggae structure.
Alexander evoked the 1960s as a period of reflection, in memory of a pivotal decade for him, when he connected with Ray Brown and, subsequently, Oscar Peterson.
Russell Malone then joined the trio, right before the intermission, bringing his crisp and disciplined touch on guitar. His sound was mainly heard during solos, and on some tunes like "Milestones," where he added a clear and effective percussion effect by tapping gently on his guitar for the necessary beats to this Miles Davis classic. The first sent ended with a fast version of "Sweet Georgia Brown."
During the intermission, Alexander participated in an interview in front of the audience, first speaking about swing. If all the key elements and musicians are lined up correctly you can, as he explained, be "swinging like the cows come home!" Asked about whether swing can be taught, he answered that it comes by exposure in a deep way, but is very specific to a lifestyle and approach. In swing, how you play will be as specific as your own fingerprints. Alexander shares an island connection with Peterson, Wynton Kelly, and Sonny Rollinsproviding that extra bounce, perhaps, or an indigenous element, to his style.
The second set started quietly, with Shakur offering a solo take on "Tenderly." Malone then joined the bassist for a ballad, the way an old friend once suggested that they play. Just like a kiss, "it should be sweet, deep, and slow." Eventually, Alexander, and then Harper joined the band, setting the stage for the second special guest of the evening, Houston Person, as the quintet replicated the feel promoted by Norman Granz with his famous Jazz At The Philharmonic. The climactic moment occurred with Harper laying down a skipping and playful intro to "Caravan," before being joined by the rest of the musicians. Person led the deep tenor sounds for "Basie Street Blues" to close the show. Alexander chose "How High The Moon," for a well-deserved encore and, perhaps, surprised some who were already on their way out of the hall, with a second encore. Fittingly, the added surprise was an original arrangement of "Freedom Song," leading smoothly into a gentle "No Woman No Cry," echoing the late Bob Marley, before returning to its original melody.
The evening was, indeed, a swinging affair.