MONTY ALEXAN­DER

Jamaica Gleaner - - ENTERTAINMENT -

ASTRAIGHT line may be the short­est dis­tance be­tween two points, but it’s hardly the most mem­o­rable. Lit­tle won­der then, that both rivers and rail­ways in­vari­ably twist, bend and un­du­late as they nav­i­gate var­ied ter­rain. It’s much the same way with mu­sic, whether jazz, reg­gae, funk or any other genre.

With more than 70 al­bums to his credit un­der his own name, and fea­tur­ing on many more, pi­anist Monty Alexan­der has tra­versed a wide ar­ray of mu­si­cal ter­rain, mak­ing the world seem smaller through mu­sic. He has also amassed an en­vi­able list of friends and col­lab­o­ra­tors, hav­ing per­formed with just about ev­ery ma­jor fig­ure in jazz, in­clud­ing Dizzy Gillespie, Frank Si­na­tra, Sonny Rollins, Milt Jack­son, Quincy Jones, Bobby McFer­rin and his long­time friend and com­pa­triot, the le­gendary Ja­maican gui­tarist Ernest Ran­glin.

But with all of that, there’s one con­nec­tion – a ‘river of the heart’, one might say – that has re­mained cen­tral to his feel­ings and phi­los­o­phy, no mat­ter where the mu­sic has taken him, and that’s the con­nec­tion be­tween Ja­maica and the USA. Grow­ing up in Ja­maica, young Monty was ex­posed early on to the feast of sound that was then part of the Ja­maican so­cial fab­ric: the old folk songs, ca­lypso play­ers at ho­tel pool­sides, nascent Ja­maican pop and, of course, jazz.

That ‘stream’ took him to the US in 1961, and begin­ning at Jilly’s, the New York City night­club, where he held court and be­gan to gather force. Since his ar­rival in the US, Alexan­der thrilled au­di­ences with his sig­na­ture blend of jazz and the pop­u­lar mu­sic of home. In no time he caught the at­ten­tion of jazz’s lead­ing lights, and the ven­er­a­ble ca­reer we now cel­e­brate was on its way.

The du­al­ity in his mu­sic is now reach­ing its fullest ex­pres­sion in what the pi­anist dubs The Har­lem-Kingston Ex­press (H-KE). The name evokes not only the com­bi­na­tion of the two cities but also the high-pow­ered ex­cite­ment the band brings to the stage.

In this combo, Amer­i­can jazz and Ja­maican reg­gae not only co-ex­ist, they in­ter­min­gle and in­form each other. The H-KE is es­sen­tially two groups in one: a jazz group and a reg­gae group, with Alexan­der strad­dling the two on pi­ano. Each plays more or less purely in their own genre, but with Alexan­der, the com­mon thread that holds them to­gether.

Un­der that ban­ner, the group has thus far recorded two al­bums: the Grammy-nom­i­nated 2011 live al­bum, and The River Rolls On, both on the in­de­pen­dent la­bel, Motema Mu­sic.

And the river is in­deed rolling on, and bring­ing Monty home, for his first Ja­maican per­for­mance in roughly a decade. Ap­pro­pri­ately dubbed ‘Home for Christ­mas’ the event is set to un­fold on Sun­day, De­cem­ber 11 at Kingston’s Ja­maica Pe­ga­sus ho­tel. The mu­si­cal home­com­ing will serve as a ben­e­fit for the Global Giv­ing Ini­tia­tive of the Univer­sity of the West Indies, and will be un­der the pa­tron­age of for­mer prime min­is­ter (and renowned man­ager of the Skatal­ites), the Most Hon P.J. Pat­ter­son, as well as the vicechan­cel­lor of the UWI, Sir Hi­lary Beck­les.

We can ex­pect Monty to be joined by his core ensem­ble of Has­san Shakur on acous­tic bass, gui­tarist Yo­tam Sil­ber­stein, and drum­mers Karl Wright or Obed Cal­vaire. They’re joined by Earl Ap­ple­ton on key­boards, elec­tric bassist Joshua Thomas, gui­tarist Andy Bass­ford, and per­cus­sion­ist Court­ney Pan­ton (the lat­ter hav­ing an ex­ten­sive mu­si­cal legacy of his own).

With such a deep source, and the vast ac­cu­mu­la­tion of ma­te­rial on his jour­ney, it would be al­most point­less to guess at a pos­si­ble reper­toire for the evening, but it would be no sur­prise to hear Jimmy Cliff’s The Harder They Come and Bob Mar­ley’s Re­demp­tion Song, or soul hits such as Marvin Gaye’s What’s Goin’ On (which Monty rechris­tens on the al­bum as Wa’a Gwan). Equally, we may be gifted with Ro­drigo’s THE SUN­DAY GLEANER, NOVEM­BER 27, 2016 Concierto de Aran­juez, (pop­u­larised on Miles Davis’ Sketches of Spain) and New Or­leans sta­ples like Sweet Ge­or­gia Brown and That Old Black Magic.

Above all, ex­pect to be thor­oughly en­ter­tained, as the thing Monty has demon­strated is that he can swing al­most any song, and he can ‘reg­gaefy’ al­most any stan­dard. In his bril­liance and passion, the mu­si­cal streams twist, part and merge and be­come some­thing new – some­thing un­mis­tak­ably Monty Alexan­der. |

... the thing Monty has demon­strated is that he can swing al­most any song, and he can ‘reg­gaefy’ al­most any stan­dard.

HAR­LEM-KINGSTON EX­PRESS

MONTY ALEXAN­DER

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