152

Monty Alexander: Live at the Iridium

Samuel Chell By

Sign in to view read count
Monty Alexander: Live at the Iridium Take equal parts of Oscar Peterson, Ahmad Jamal, and Gene Harris, add a jigger of Jamaican rum, steep the mix in the spirits of Louis, Nat, and the Count—and you've got a master musician, not to mention a superior piano album and an inspired live recording session that is already looking like one of the outstanding releases for 2005.

This is Monty Alexander's best recording in at least ten, if not fifteen years, an album that brings to mind his admired 1976 Montreux concert album and even recalls some of the youthful fire that characterized his exuberant, tireless playing in the early years. (We've Only Just Begun, an LP on the defunct MPS label, must rank as one of the hardest-swinging sessions on record.)

What distinguishes Alexander's playing from Tatum or Peterson is the room he leaves for the listener. A recent Down Beat review of this latest Alexander offering falls wide of the mark when writer Will Smith finds in the leader's performance "glibness" and "merely showy embellishments with little originality." As dazzling as Alexander's technique and pianisms are, he never simply overwhelms you. Every new chorus finds him coming up with an inventive approach to the challenge of improvisation. He'll suddenly give his left hand the melodic chores and delegate harmonic duties to the right; or he'll do an unaccompanied polyrhythmic chorus followed by ascending block chords leading chromatically into an exploding out chorus. And often his "out" choruses are merely setups for another round of all-out improvising, except with the intensity turned up a notch.

Listening to Alexander is a bit like watching a Hitchcock movie—you're always matching wits with a master who's daring you to guess his next move. It's rarely what you anticipate, or it's the anticipated occurring at an unexpected time. "Work Song," that overly familiar, thread-worn jazz standard, is brimful of surprises, changing keys imperceptibly and going into overdrive just when it appears the high-flying musical rhetoric of the performance is coming in for a landing. "Lil Darlin'" finds Monty capturing not just Basie's delicate touch but, through tremolo choruses, the intensity of the full ensemble. "My Mother's Eyes" recalls Sonny Stitt's recording of the tune and offers a virtual clinic on how to draw a listener into a heretofore unfamiliar song. Monty plays the melody straight and unaccompanied, then eases the rhythm section in with a graceful two-beat feel, finally hitting his stride with a walking, swinging 4/4 version. Although each chorus becomes increasingly adventurous, none relinquishes strategic points of reference to the original melody.

But it's not variety and eclecticism that distinguish a scintillating Alexander set. What's significant is that the hooks, allusions, riffs, and inexhaustible tricks up the pianist's sleeve never intrude on the momentum of the performance. This is music for the mind, the soul, and—not least—the feet.


Track Listing: Work Song; Slappin'; My Mother's Eyes; Happylypso/Funji Mama; River; Runnin' Away; Little Darlin'; Mount Zanda; That's the Way It Is

Personnel: Monty Alexander, piano; Hassan Shakur, bass; Mark Taylor, drums; Robert Thomas, Jr., percussion.

Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: Telarc Records | Style: Straight-ahead/Mainstream


Shop

More Articles

Read June CD/LP/Track Review June
by Karl Ackermann
Published: February 19, 2017
Read The Final Concert CD/LP/Track Review The Final Concert
by John Sharpe
Published: February 19, 2017
Read Desire & Freedom CD/LP/Track Review Desire & Freedom
by Glenn Astarita
Published: February 19, 2017
Read On Hollywood Boulevard CD/LP/Track Review On Hollywood Boulevard
by Budd Kopman
Published: February 19, 2017
Read The Motorman's Son CD/LP/Track Review The Motorman's Son
by Dan Bilawsky
Published: February 18, 2017
Read "Carrera Quinta Big Band" CD/LP/Track Review Carrera Quinta Big Band
by Edward Blanco
Published: April 26, 2016
Read "Alpha Nebula Expanded: The Monster Peace" CD/LP/Track Review Alpha Nebula Expanded: The Monster Peace
by Dave Wayne
Published: November 17, 2016
Read "This is Life" CD/LP/Track Review This is Life
by Jerome Wilson
Published: September 29, 2016
Read "D-Stringz" CD/LP/Track Review D-Stringz
by James Nadal
Published: February 25, 2016
Read "Fourmation" CD/LP/Track Review Fourmation
by John Ephland
Published: March 27, 2016
Read "Groovin' Hard: Live At The Penthouse 1964-1968" CD/LP/Track Review Groovin' Hard: Live At The Penthouse 1964-1968
by Dan McClenaghan
Published: January 18, 2017

Post a comment

comments powered by Disqus

Sponsor: ECM Records | BUY NOW  

Support our sponsor

Support All About Jazz's Future

We need your help and we have a deal. Contribute $20 and we'll hide the six Google ads that appear on every page for a full year!

Buy it!