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Monty Alexander: Island Grooves

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I don't often review reissues, but here's a particular noteworthy re-release of two albums that somehow escaped my attention in the 80s, especially being the steel drum lover that I am. Concord has launched a reissue series which pairs two similar albums by an artist on a specially-priced 2-CD set. In this case, it's Jamaican-born pianist Monty Alexander's collaborations with steel drum virtuoso Othello Molineaux, 1980'sIvory & Steeland 1988'sJamboree. These discs will be immensely satisfying both to lovers of straight-ahead jazz and lovers of Caribbean music.

The first disc,Ivory & Steel, is a blend of Alexander originals and jazz standards. Most tunes are fast, upbeat, and happy. Alexander and Molineaux are amazing both in terms of their fleet-fingered dexterity and for their intelligent, well-crafted improvizations, especially on Richard Evans' "Montevideo" and the medley of Coltrane's "Impressions" and Miles' "So What." "Cavatina" provides a break with it's gentle, almost crying balladry, as does the blues-drenched "That's the Way It Is." The first disc closes with an unexpected choice, Joe Sample and Will Jennings' "Street Life" - but the Crusaders' vocal R&B hit is adapted to this setting nicely as a duet with only Alexander's piano buoyed by Robert Thomas, Jr.'s percussion.

The second disc,Jamboree, features a higher proportion of Alexander originals (great tunes), plus a couple Jamaican folk songs. The musical emphasis here is less on straight-ahead jazz and more on Caribbean music and adapted pop tunes (Vincent Ford's "No Woman No Cry" and Joni Mitchell's "Big Yellow Taxi"), but the end result is every bit as musically satisfying. Also on board is a second steel drummer, Len "Boogsie" Sharpe. On some occasions, the songs are enhanced by the rich sonorities of lower-pitched pans. An uncredited vocalist (probably Alexander) enlivens the two Jamaican folk songs, the opener "Sly Mongoose" and the closer "Linstead Market" - both tunes are fun and add to the Caribbean flavor and authenticity of the program. (Concord Picante CCD2-4940)


Track Listing: FromIvory & Steel: Happy Lypso; Cavatina; Montevideo; S.K.J.; That's the Way It Is; Work Song; Medley ("Impressions" and "So What"); Stella By Starlight; Street Life. FromJamboree: Sly Mongoose; Think Twice; No Woman No Cry; Look Up; Accompong; You Can See; Big Yellow Taxi; Reggae Later; Crying; Linstead Market. (45:09, 49:09)

Personnel: Monty Alexander - piano; Othello Molineaux, Len "Boogsie" Sharpe - steel drums; Robert Thomas, Jr. - percussion; Frank Gant, Marvin "Smitty" Smith - drums; Gerald Wiggins, Marshall Wood - bass; Bernard Montgomery - electric bass.

Title: Island Grooves | Year Released: 2001 | Record Label: Concord Music Group


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