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Review: Monty Alexander

Monty Alexander Quartet
(Ronnie Scott’s, August 26th 2010, review by Geoff Winston)

“If it don’t sound like Nat King Cole, it’s NAT King Cole!” Pianist Monty Alexander has a way with self-mockery. And when he veers off into Jamaican patois and talks about the aftermath of Empire, he could cause discomfort. But, ever the practiced entertainer, he puts his audience completely at ease.

Alexander’s hugely enjoyable two-hour set saw him deliver blues-inflected powerhouse runs, jaw-droppingly precise funk, and re-interpretations of the songs and rhythms of calypso and reggae (notably ‘No Woman No Cry’) – calling to mind his statements that “it’s what you do with a song that makes it jazz” and that he has always wanted to “bring out some home vibrations which are still deep inside my life and my spirit.”

The repertoire was confidently varied. Alexander ticked off ‘Don’t Stop the Carnival’ right at the start, a great way to set a high tempo and get his grinning group to gel from the off. They stretched out langourously on the Hefti composition, ‘Li’l’ Darlin”, a similar mood taken up by a poignant ‘In the Wee Small Hours’ which followed the roller coaster of a heavily funked up ‘On Broadway’.

His long-standing rhythm section delivered their own personal touches – Robert Taylor Jnr‘s long spells of polished hand-drumming, and Hassan Shakur‘s darting bass and wistful plea for world peace sung in a high register, reggae-style. The youthful Yotam Silberstein‘s light and accomplished guitar was an effective foil duetting with Alexander on ‘To the Ends of the Earth’ – although, maybe a touch too anonymous in deference to the master.

Alexander’s fluency, focussed invention and natural upbeat delivery never fail to impress. Whether he’s swapping the melody from one hand to the other, reaching out to his musicians or the audience, the irresistible, driving swing keeps going.

Like Oscar Peterson, he’d hum or grunt along from time to time – and then he’d break into full song or even yodel. When he blew on the melodica with shimmering reverb, the spirit of reggae’s ambient dub genius, Augustus Pablo, echoed around the room. There was an informal detour into ‘Unforgettable’, joined by his wife, Caterina Zapponi, on vocals, then, emphasising the complex cultural recipe that underpins his music, the quartet dipped in to the ‘Banana Boat Song’ and bowed out at a blistering pace in a bolero-style ‘Aranjuez’.

Earlier, pianist James Pearson, with ideal backing from Julie Walkington (b) and Dave Ohm (dr), was joined by singer Georgia Mancio to deliver a quality opening set of flowing vocals and rich piano, a respectful nod to the main man of the evening.

(Photo credit: Montreuxjazz/Lionel Flusin)

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