|Monty Alexander. Photo credit: Frederick Bernas|
(Union Chapel, N1, 27th June. Opening night of Bluesfest London. Review and Photo credit: Frederick Bernas)
Now into the 50th year of his performing career, Monty Alexander is well known as a charismatic showman who draws great pleasure from mixing, twisting and bending different genres into an accessible musical package – and stamping his own unique identity onto whatever style he desires.
At Union Chapel his chosen format was the simple piano trio, witnessed by a strong crowd on the opening night of BluesFest 2011. They were not disappointed. Starting up with Blue Mitchell’s calypso ‘Fungi Mama,’ the group radiated a positive vibe that matched Alexander’s cheerful countenance as he strolled onto the stage.
He took the opportunity to showcase several tunes from his latest album, Uplift – a collection of live recordings that topped American jazz radio charts for a couple of weeks in June.
Familiar melodies such as ‘Come Fly With Me’ and ‘Django’ were punctuated by Alexander originals – none more impressive than ‘Renewal’, another cut from the new release. Its dark, brooding overture blossomed into a bustling groove before bassist Hassan Shakur produced one of the evening’s most remarkable solos, effortlessly juxtaposing his own ideas with memorable lines from R&B hits and even the Pink Panther.
Alexander reinforced his credentials as a mischievous musical adventurer with ‘No Woman, No Cry’. Swashbuckling runs were replaced by a delicate touch that did full justice to Bob Marley’s classic anthem, a fitting tribute to both the great songwriter and the rich Jamaican culture in which Alexander grew up.
As a consummate entertainer with genuine international pedigree, he is a man who never forgets his roots, fusing the creative essence of his native land with the jazz legacy of past collaborators like Gillespie, Rollins and Sinatra. Monty Alexander really is a musician who has it all – and he was fully appreciated with a rapturous standing ovation.
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