Monty Alexander: New York, February 20-March 4, 2012
The band put in solid, rocking performances on the two jazz standards in the set, Joe Zawinul's "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy," and Ramsey Lewis' "In Crowd." On the second tune, Alexander took a good deal of inspiration in his solo from Wright's drumming, mirroring the rhythms in his playing and using a strong, percussive attack the piano. Both songs appear on the CD Monty Meets Sly and Robbie (Telarc, 2000).
"King Tubby Meets the Rockers Uptown," a tribute to one of the pioneers of dub (aka Osbourne Ruddock), featured Alexander on melodica. It was followed by a tune that started out with a playful boogie woogie introduction by the pianist that had the audience wondering where he was going until he segued into Bob Marley's "Lively Up Yourself."
Alexander talked a little bit about Jamaican musical genres and his own other influencesfrom ska and rocksteady to Louis Armstrong and Nat King Coleleading into his introduction of the guest vocalist for the set, Bitty McLean, saying that the singer had a firm grounding in all these traditions. McLean is a strong reggae singer who hails from London and charted three top ten hits in the U.K. during the 1990s. Among these hits was a cover of the Shirelles' "Dedicated to the One I Love," which he performed with the band and brought on an unusual occurrence at the Blue Notejust about everybody in the audience was up on their feet dancing. The dancing kept going through much of the rest of the set, which included Barrington Levy's "Shine Eye Girl," and a medley of Marley's "Everything's Gonna Be Alright" and "No Woman No Cry."
The rest of the series had much to offer, notably Alexander's most recent band, the Grammy-nominated Harlem-Kingston Express, which was on for the opening night and the last two. A show dubbed "A Night at Jilly's" reflected the mood of the New York nightclub where Alexander had a three-year-long stay and featured vocalists Dee Dee Bridgewater and Freddy Cole. Another night was a reunion for Alexander with bassist John Clayton and drummer Jeff Hamilton, who performed together on an important recording in the pianist's career, The Monty Alexander Trio: Live at the Montreux Festival (MPS, 1976). That Montreaux reunion also featured Dianna Krall making a surprise appearance, singing an especially swinging version of Fats Domino's "I'm Walkin.'" Other special guests included organist Dr. Lonnie Smith and guitarist Pat Martino playing with Alexander's Uplift! trio, reggae singer and rapper Shaggy, and reggae fusion singer-songwriter Diana King. Overall, though, the series didn't get anywhere near giving the feel of a revolving door of all stars from the past. Instead, it was a thoughtfully planned and wonderfully executed retrospective on the many individual chapters of Alexander's career. The pianist's playful and joyous approach to music set the tone throughout, and he served as a gracious host, clearly grateful for the many opportunities he's come across over his 50 years in music.
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