Review: Monty Alexander

It is with very great pleasure that we welcome young writer Luke Pinkstone to LondonJazz. Here’s his review of an evening complete with a fitting eulogy from one great Jamaican, Monty Alexander, to another: Usain Bolt.

Monty Alexander Trio plus Arnie Somogyi’s Ambulance
(Ronnie Scott’s, August 28th 2009)

Two very contrasting ensembles playing back to back produced a very memorable night at Ronnie Scott’s.

Arnie Somogyi’s Ambulance, who pride themselves as ‘specialists in musical accident and insurgency’, kicked the night off at Ronnie’s with their refreshingly eccentric yet focused sound. The band comprised of Paul Booth on saxophones, Gareth Williams on piano, Dave Smith on drums, Rob Townsend saxophones and flute, and led by Arnie Somogyi on double bass.

After warming up with a Latin-tinted blues, Ambulance led into the nautically named tune Captain Courageous. Abstract saxophone howls, note bends and heated free improvisation naturally dissolved into a dark bungling beat. Smith held things down, accentuating the band’s unison angular phrases before breaking into a furious double-time swing, abstract grooves and more punchy backing figures for the soloists to build on.

“That was all in 4/4,” Somogyi announced drily afterwards, “you’re just a bit drunk”.

The ensemble continued to fuse free and experimental improvisation with contemporary jazz styles, finishing with a round of heated improvisation over a funky blues before a final tight unison riff, which marked the end of their set.

However impressive Ambulance were, nothing could have prepared for the versatility and pure skill of Monty Alexander Trio.

Drummer Herlin Riley was the first to take the stage. After a stylish round of his kit, he leant back in the chair and just simmered, laying down an infectiously cool, crisply rhythmic swing groove. Next on stage was Hassan (JJ Wiggins) Shakur who added a slick walking bass line to the recipe. All that was required now was for the Jamaican piano virtuoso to take his place. He did so to a rapture of applause from the audience. Shakur and Riley responded effortlessly to complement Monty Alexander through full-bodied rumbling chords, furious bop lines, graceful melodic phrases and re-emerging calypso grooves.

The trio’s version of Smile, made famous in 1954 by Nat King Cole (one of Monty Alexander’s primary influences), began with rich romantic harmonies and Alexander strumming the strings inside the piano before settling nicely into a light swing. Similarly though, it wasn’t long before the band were charging through different styles, drawing the audience further in with every tack. Riley’s rhythmic precision pushed the trio forward with his stick hovering over the ride cymbal long before choosing the right moment to land the hit.

A particular highlight was a cover of Bob Marley’s Running Away: what better song could there be to celebrate the superhuman achievements of Jamaican athlete Usain Bolt…. It featured Monty Alexander on melodica (asa above , but complete with Jamaican flag). The night finished with a special encore feature from Italian-born Katarina Alexander, who perched on the edge of her husband’s piano stool to sing Bruno Martino’s ballad Estate (Summertime). The drawn out silky tones rounded off the trio’s set beautifully and received a final standing applause from the appreciative audience.

Luke Pinkstone

Categories: miscellaneous

2 replies »

  1. 'infectiously cool, crisply rhythmic swing groove'… Hmmmm, nice way to start a Sunday morning. Thanks. (D.R.)

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