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Live Reviews

Monty Alexander: New York, February 20-March 4, 2012

By Published: March 19, 2012

February 25: Ivory and Steel: A Jazz Tribute to Trinidad
For another pair of evenings in the two-week series, Alexander reached back to another special collaboration during his career, his Ivory and Steel band, which toured together in the 1980s and recorded two CDs, both on the Concord label Ivory and Steel(1980) and Jamboree (1988). As Alexander explained, the "ivory" in the name referred to the keys on the piano, and the "steel" referred to the steel drum. The latter, also known as steel pan, an especially critical element in the sound of the group, was played by one of the pioneers on the instrument in jazz, Othello Molineaux, known for his long collaboration with Jaco Pastorius
Jaco Pastorius
Jaco Pastorius
1951 - 1987
bass, electric
. Joining Alexander and Molineaux were two other original members of the Ivory and Steel band, the bassist and long-time Alexander associate Hassan (JJ Wiggins) Shakur and percussionist Bobby Thomas, also known as Bobby T., who shares Molineaux's connection with Pastorius through his work with Weather Report
Weather Report
Weather Report

band/orchestra
in the 1980s. Rounding out the band were Etienne Charles
Etienne Charles
Etienne Charles
b.1983
trumpet
, the young jazz trumpet player who, like Molineaux, hails from Trinidad, and drummer Herlin Riley
Herlin Riley
Herlin Riley
b.1957
drums
, who performed with Alexander and Shakur in a trio setting on Uplift! (Retrieval, 2011), a CD that got considerable airplay on jazz radio in the past year.

Alexander pointed out the flags from Trinidad and his own native Jamaica, draped over the piano, that represented the musical direction for the evening. The set opened up with the rhythm section alone— piano, bass, drums, and percussion—playing a lively island number that at one point morphed into "Day O," the Harry Belafonte
Harry Belafonte
b.1927
vocalist
vehicle.

It also included a nice contrasting swing chorus and a spectacular, extended hand drumming workout by Thomas on his array of instruments: bongos, congas, agogo bells, an electronic pad, and a crispy crash cymbal set high up, a full arm's reach away, that he'd dramatically slap from time to time throughout the set. The second number included Alexander mischievously sprinkling in several quotes from a range of sources, among them "Peter and the Wolf" and Sam Cooke
Sam Cooke
Sam Cooke
1931 - 1964
vocalist
's "Chain Gang," and also featured a fine bass solo by Shakur with deft double stops here and there.

Molineaux and Charles then hit the stage and the full band set off on an arrangement that mixed together Miles Davis' "Impressions" and "So What"—a selection that appeared on the first Ivory and Steel CD. A ballad followed, "Sugarloaf at Twighlight," an original composition by Alexander. Molineaux showed off his superior command of the steel drum, as his sound lent the perfect coloring for the calypso-jazz fusion Alexander was aiming for. Charles' contributions on trumpet added something fresh—a young, hip take on bebop, mixed with tasty little flavorings from Trinidad.

Alexander then talked a bit about the importance of calypso singers Lord Kitchener and The Mighty Sparrow, and introduced one more addition to the ensemble at the Blue Note, a Trinidadian singer who carries on the traditions of his predecessors, Designer (also known as Keith Prescott). The singer showed a mix of his calypso roots, soca, soul, and jazz with "This Bebop Music," which featured Charles starting off on ukulele and then working in a fitting quote from Charlie Parker
Charlie Parker
Charlie Parker
1920 - 1955
sax, alto
's "Anthropology" in his trumpet solo. The singer and the full band rounded out the set with a Mighty Sparrow tune, "Rose," and the Jamaican folk song, "Linstead Market."


March 1: Jazz Meets Reggae and Dub with Robbie Shakespeare

Alexander brought the Blue Note down to his home in Jamaica, showcasing another side of his eclectic career with two nights devoted to a mix of jazz, reggae and dub, and featuring one of the godfathers of the latter two genres, Robbie Shakespeare. Playing his well-worn vintage red Fender jazz bass, he lent a particularly commanding presence throughout the evening. One half of the renowned team of Sly and Robbie, Shakespeare is said to have played on or produced some 200,000 recorded tracks together with his partner Sly Dunbar over the last twenty years. Dunbar was also originally scheduled to appear both nights at the Blue Note but couldn't make it. Karl Wright, a veteran musician from Montego Bay, filled in more than ably on drums and was joined by Earl Appleton on keyboards and Robert Brownie on guitar. In addition to his work on piano, Alexander performed on melodica—used with some frequency in reggae—and he fondly described how he came to play the instrument as a young boy after failing to get the hang of an accordion that his father gave him.


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