The Monty Alexander Trio
Impressions in Blue
Monty Alexander, Piano
Hassan Shakus, Bass
Mark Taylor, Drums
John Pizzarelli, Guitarist (Special Guest)
Review by Karl Lozier
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CD Stock Number: Telarc CD-83578
It seems as if Monty Alexander's career is continuing to soar. The well-known Jazz and Bop pianist from Jamaica is generally credited with being influenced by Oscar Peterson, Gene Harris, Nat King Cole and Ahmad Jamal. Jamaican and Caribbean rhythms and influence often pop up in his playing style. They are pretty much missing in this recording, here the blues side of jazz is often recurring. As an aside, the name of his band in Jamaica was called "Monty and the Cyclones". In the U.S. he started playing with some big bands including Art Mooney's. He also did gigs with a number of other top soloists. One of his earliest and favorite pairings was with the justly famous bassist Ray Brown. This album's inner cover contains the following:
To Raymond Mathews Brown, boss
- Monty Alexander
(I assume "boss" refers to their relationship many years ago.)
Classical musical lovers, yes classical music lovers (!) can get quite a kick out of this varied collection! The title song,
"Impression in Blue", could easily have carried the title "Rhapsody in Blue" as that is how it starts out and very impressively so! It also finishes with that melody and in between there is much that I would describe as theme and variations. I guess that makes me biased in favor of all that goes on here and the performance is just fine thank you, sprightly and to a very directed point. The second selection,
"Aranjuez Impression," is obviously grounded in an old favorite of mine, Rodrigo's Guitar concerto. For anyone not familiar with that subtle masterpiece, my recommendation is try it and do so while it's on your mind - a rather quiet introspective piece of Spanish flavored guitar plus orchestra. Miles David played around with it years ago in his well-known
Sketches of Spain. Here, Monty Alexander evidently arranged the introductory passages note for note and playing the piano in a manner consistent with how a guitarist does it. Extremely well done and bassist Hassan Shakus has at it for a few passages also. That is tough to do as the double bass does not emit beautiful notes or tones in its upper registers. The trio does a perfect low-key version of that music and to fine effect. I had wondered why they had not asked guitarist John Pizzarelli to join in on this track, but ultimately it made more sense not to include the piece's original instrument in a jazz rendition of it.
I am not going to spoil things by pointing out all the little details, some hidden and some obvious in this outstanding CD, which even non-jazz lovers should appreciate. The next two sections are grouped as
Duke's Reflections (Duke Ellington tunes) and Where the Tradewinds Blow (selections featuring three different West Indies' areas).
The following section (King Cole Reflections) is very obviously a tribute to the music and life of the great Nat King Cole. Here special guest, guitarist John Pizzarelli is added. Pizzarelli pretty much gets equal microphone spot lighting here something not always true for others elsewhere on this CD. In particular I was kept waiting to hear Mark Taylor get loose and give listeners some unbridled dynamics on the drum set. Monty was given almost full rein and often is really "playing into the keys" with a great deal of dynamics. At times it seemed as if his left hand was overpowering the right, a minor and questionable quibble. On this group of three "Cole tunes" Alexander + Pizzarelli interpretations, excellent as they are, do not catch Cole's style on all three selections - see what you think.
I had to laugh to myself the first time I played the recording when out of nowhere came Johnny Mercer's well-known classic of the old West, I'm an Old Cowhand. I don't know if the improvisations are part bop, cool, early modern or some fusion jazz, but all was fun. I am very pleased to give this album my top recommendation. It might not be perfect, but it does not miss by far even in sound quality; it is somewhere between enjoyable and downright fun. I know not why but the CD's cover did not list John
Pizzarelli, but I deservedly added him in my title listings.