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

Bob Kenselaar By

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Monty Alexander: 50 Years in Music & 50 Years of Jamaica
The Blue Note
New York, NY
February 20-March 4, 2012
Monty Alexander set out an ambitious agenda in trying to showcase all the many facets of his 50-year career in music during this two-week stint at the Blue Note. The pianist sure delivered, though, judging by three shows that featured Alexander side-by-side with several of his many collaborators over the years—some of the top names working in jazz and reggae.
February 21: Triple Treat Revisited
Two nights in the series were dubbed "Triple Treat Revisited," a reference to the trio consisting of Alexander, bassist Ray Brown, and guitarist Herb Ellis, who met up in the late 1970s and performed and recorded together under the name Triple Treat. Alexander mentioned how fondly he remembered the trio's performances at the Blue Note some 30 years ago, and introduced his two collaborators for the early show on February 21—Russell Malone on guitar and Christian McBride on bass—as being perfectly suited to fill the roles of the two other original members, both of whom have passed away within the last decade.

Malone—clearly in the top echelon of today's jazz guitarists—joined Alexander and Brown on a CD entitled Ray Brown, Monty Alexander, Russell Malone (Telarc, 2002), which turned out to be Brown's last recording. Alexander described how important Brown was as an influence on jazz bassists of his generation when he introduced Christian McBride as, essentially, Brown's figurative heir, or as the pianist put it, "Ray Brown's son—plus!"

The set opened with "I Got My Mojo Working," with Alexander's playing a bit of barrelhouse, which ultimately led to rich harmonies and intricate bebop lines. McBride played a wonderfully constructed solo, setting out in his first chorus with impressive melodic lines and following up with a second chorus building on those ideas in long runs of sixteenth notes covering the full range of his instrument.

In the second tune, Miles Davis' "Freddie the Freeloader," Malone started out with some especially solid swing comping that brought to mind the Basie guitarist Freddie Green, and then ventured out into to his own unique bebop voicings. Later in the tune, McBride and Alexander found themselves playing the same long riff in unison, thanks to an uncanny a mix of telepathy and sheer coincidence, as reflected in their bright smiles of surprise. Alexander took a very playful approach to the out chorus of the tune, almost caricaturing the playing of famous Miles Davis pianists, sounding out some lush diminished chords á la Bill Evans—played with more than a little bit of irony—and then bringing to mind Wynton Kelly and Red Garland. Alexander finished off the selection with a flourish by reaching into the piano and strumming its strings like a harp.

Other songs in the set included "Don't It Make My Brown Eyes Blue," "In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning," and "Fly Me to the Moon," with a novel introduction where the trio traded fours before getting to the melody. There were two other standouts, tunes closely associated with the original trio. One was the Flintstones theme, the rhythm-changes romp recorded on the first Triple Treat CD (Concord, 1982), with a fine arco solo by McBride which included a funny quote from "Surrey with the Fringe on Top." The other was Brown's composition, "Reunion Blues," the closer, which Alexander told me after the set was something of a theme song for the group.

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