In the wake of Usain Bolt’s record-breaking performances last week come a number of musical tributes. Clive Davis, writing for the London Times, sets aside that of Monty Alexander, the Jamaican pianist and melodica player, for special praise. Alexander is on tour with his new band following his latest release, Calypso Blues: Here’s Davis’ review:
The reggae singers and dancehall idols have already been busy producing homages to Usain Bolt, but it’s probably safe to say that Monty Alexander — Jamaica’s classiest export after Bob Marley — wins the gold medal for the first jazz tribute. The pianist’s breezy sprint instrumental, flipping between sleek funk riffs and exuberant swing, captured something of the sprint champion’s insouciant charm.
It is a quality that is never in short supply in Alexander’s residencies. While he may never attract the kind of hysteria that follows Keith Jarrett and Brad Mehldau around, Alexander — silver-haired but still more than sprightly in his mid-sixties — is the compleat pianist, an extrovert whose technique spans myriad traditions, from bebop to stride, swing to R&B, Beatles pop to boogie-woogie and dub reggae. Yet at the same time his signature remains instantly recognisable. Little wonder that the “house full” sign was outside the entrance for his opening night.
His current band, with Hassan Shakur (alias J. J. Wiggins) on bass and the former Wynton Marsalis sideman Herlin Riley on drums, is a wonderfully percussive unit that seems to defy gravity. With Alexander sometimes restricting himself to the lightest of touches, it was almost possible to spend an entire number savouring Shakur and Riley’s flawless interplay. This was close to a masterclass in rhythm.
Alexander’s latest release, Calypso Blues, is a genial collection of songs associated with Nat “King” Cole, one of his earliest influences. His opening set, however, roamed far and wide, teasing the audience with a steady flow of fleeting quotations from Monk, Ellington and Co.
True, Alexander sometimes flirts with sentimentality. His composition The River evoked Abdullah Ibrahim’s hymn-like meditations, but nevertheless contained too much sugar for its own good. I have to admit that I could also live without hearing any more cover versions of that lachrymose Charlie Chaplin ballad, Smile. To Alexander’s credit, though, the rhapsodic arrangement generated more than enough momentum to mask the taste of vanilla. In another number, which scampered through a lush island landscape, Alexander produced a melodica and gave an affectionate nod in the direction of Harry Belafonte. In the wrong hands, it could have been slightly embarrassing; Alexander carried it off triumphantly.
For the complete review go to http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/music/live_reviews/article6815385.ece