Friday, December 13, 2013

Revisiting Monty Alexander - [Still] Exhilarating! [From the Archives]

© -Steven Cerra. Copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“Audiences find Monty Alexander’s music instantly accessible, exciting and exhilarating, and they quickly warm to it and respond to it….”
-Mike Hennessey, Jazz writer/critic

“Monty plays – I mean plays – with Tatum’s grace, Peterson’s richness, Garner’s force, Nat Cole’s wit. And over all, the very real trio conception and brisk charts recall the tight structures of the early Ahmad Jamal trio.”
- Fred Bouchard, Downbeat

“The striking qualities of Alexander's playing are his intimate knowledge of the Jazz tradition, his reverence for the pre-bebop piano legacy, his prodigious technical facility, and his resilient connection to the cultural heritage of his native Jamaica.”
- Derk Richardson, columnist

“Monty continually creates very logical melodic lines and yet the constant surfacing of his improvisational surprises maintains interest no matter what musical context he presents to his listeners.”
- Jerry Dean, Jazz radio host

Whenever I want to experience what Duke Ellington so aptly described as “The Feeling of Jazz” at its best, I play a recording by Monty Alexander.

What a “swinga” this guy is.

Derek Jewel of The London Sunday Times once wrote: “His work is in a sense, a history of Jazz piano … and yet, he distills all these influences into his own style.”

Monty comes out of everybody who has gone before him and I mean everybody: from Earl “Fatha” Hines to Teddy Wilson to Nat King Cole to Oscar Peterson; the man is a walking encyclopedia of Jazz piano.

In the insert notes to Monty’s Concord Jazz album Full Steam Ahead [CJ-287], Gordon Raddue wrote:

“Distinguished New Yorker magazine jazz critic Whitney Balliett must have had someone like Monty Alexander in mind when he wrote that the fundamental intent of jazz "is to entertain and recharge the spirit with new beauties."

Indeed, the title of the book from which the above quotation is taken, The Sound of Surprise, serves as an apt description of what Jamaican-born pianist Alexander has been producing ever since he crashed the big-time jazz scene in the late 1960s.

What sets him apart from most of his keyboard colleagues is the enormous range of his musical interests. He not only has paid his dues as a performer but, perhaps more importantly, as a listener as well.

He brings the joy of celebration to his work: a celebration of his life in music and the music of his life. Delightful surprises abound in both the selection of his material and the execution of same.”

Benny Green, the esteemed Jazz writer and critic, offered these comments about Monty in his liner notes to vibraphonist Milt Jackson’s Soul Fusion [Pablo S2310 804]:

“… Alexander is a past master in the art of placing his accompanying chords, and knowing exactly which rhythm to use in defining them.

Some of the exchanges between he an Milt sound so tight as to be telepathic, so perfect is the balance between them. [This is particularly true of the tunes played at slower tempos].

The essence of a performance at this tempo are the silences, and the shapes into which the played notes mould those silences. Alexander is marvelous at this.

It is the sort of thing that no orchestrator could ever achieve, and which classical musicians have trouble comprehending.

It is an intuitive art, born of an alliance between inclination and experience, and is one of those aspects of Jazz which distinguish it from all other forms of making music.

As a matter of fact, Alexander, with whose playing I had not been acquainted before hearing these tracks, is the sort of musician who makes the analyst’s job child-play.

The writer Ford Madox Ford once described how, in his capacity as an editor, he received through the post one day an unsolicited manuscript from an unknown writer called D.H. Lawrence.

Glancing casually at the story’s opening paragraph, Ford took note of this and that phrase, this and that construction; then without bothering to read any further, he tossed the manuscript on to the “Accepted” pile, remarking to his secretary as he did so, “It’s a big one this time.”

Ford, with his enormous experience of the art of literary improvisation, assessed real ability instantaneously.

In the same way the experienced listener of good Jazz will hear a few bars from any one of Alexander’s piano solos, or even a few punctuations from his accompaniments, and will do what Ford did with Lawrence, throw him on to the “Accpeted” pile and tolerate no further arguments on the subject.

It does not take long for a true Jazz artist to assert that artistry, and Alexander does this a thousand times over in this album.” ….

Perhaps you’ll come to the same conclusion as did Benny Green after listening to Monty’s playing on the following video tribute and toss it in your “Accepted” file?

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