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Proof, as if any was still necessary, that Reggae king Bob Marley wrote songs melodic enough for jazz. Grover Washington, Jr. was one of the first during the 1970s to do jazz covers of Marley's music. Then guitarist Charlie Hunter put the definitive stamp on his 1997 cover of the Natty Dread album. Now comes Jamaican pianist Monty Alexander's Stir It Up: The Music Of Bob Marley, a fine yet ultimately frustrating tribute.
Alexander's been around since the mid 1960s. He made some of his best music for the German MPS label during the 1970s and he's remained active on American labels ever since. So it's sort of difficult to factor his rather low profile with the sheer volume of records he's made over the years.
Stir It Up seems custom-made to change all that. That's part of the problem. Virtually a "greatest hits" package, much of this set will be familiar even to non-Reggae listeners. But Alexander's rather lackluster presentation of such otherwise lively material is far too pervasive. It suggests the house pianist of a Caribbean hotel lounge forced to cover Marley for the tourists, rather than play it because it means something to him.
Presented similarly to Joe Henderson's Jobim tribute, Stir It Up alternates Alexander's piano between a lively Jamaican "roots" septet and a more traditional American jazz quartet. Alexander gets particularly fired up on "I Shot The Sheriff" and So Ja Sah;" both significantly ignited and enlivened by trombonist Steve Turre's presence.
The disc's single best moment comes on the funky and righteous "Could You Be Loved" (presented straight and in a bonus, pumped-up Sly Dunbar dance remix for the club crowd), where the refined and compelling Alexander plays it like he means it.
Only tourists and the curious need apply.
Songs:Jammin'; Kaya; The Heathen; Could You Be Loved; Running Away; Stir It Up; Is This Love?; No Woman, No Cry; Crisis; I Shot The Sheriff; So Ja Sah; Nesta (He Touched The sky); Could You Be Lvoed (Extended Remix featuring Sly Dunbar).
Players:Monty Alexander: piano with Jamaican Reggae 'Ridim' Section The Gumption Band (Dwight Dawes: keyboards; Robert Angus: guitar; Trevor McKenzie: bass; Glen Brown: bass; Rolando Wilson: drums; Desmond Jones: percussion) and USA Jazz Rhythm Section (Derek DiCenzo: guitar; Hasan J.J. Wiggins: bass; Troy Davis: drums).
As a kid, my mom told me I'd like jazz. I thought she was nuts. Then I went to hear Cannonball Adderley (with Nat Adderley, George Duke, Walter Booker, Roy McCurdy and Airto) and everything changed. Yeah, mom knows best.