Oct 6, 2015
When we list the great piano players of the last fifty years, for some reason Monty Alexander seems too often to be forgotten. In a career spanning five decades, Alexander has built a reputation exploring and bridging the worlds of American jazz, popular song, and the music of his native Jamaica, finding in each a sincere spirit of musical expression. In the process, he has performed and recorded with artists from every corner of the musical universe and entertainment world. Who else can claim working with Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Ray Brown, Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Rollins, Clark Terry, Quincy Jones, Barbara Hendricks, and Bobby McFerrin, but also with Ernest Ranglin, Sly Dunbar, and Robbie Shakespeare. When Clint Eastwood wanted to record the soundtrack to his film Bird, a movie about the life of jazz titan Charlie Parker, it was Monty Alexander he chose to record the piano track. And Alexander is still going strong, having released the second album of his Harlem-Kingston Express band’s material this past spring.
In celebration of the Jamaican jazz icon, pianist Donald Vega has put together a hard swinging compilation of Monty's great, early compositions. With Respect To Monty features an all-star lineup backing Vega, including Anthony Wilson (guitar), Hassan Shakur (bass) and Lewis Nash (drums). Shakur, a long-time Alexander collaborator, lends a welcome tone of authenticity to the group’s tunes.
Vega does more than imitate Alexander – he successfully brings out the spirit and joy of the great pianist’s work in these tracks. It helps that he has Wilson’s guitar front and center – this CD s in many ways a testament to his playing, be it soaring leads or supportive comping. Shakur, a long-time Alexander collaborator, lends a welcome tone of authenticity to the group’s covers. Lewis Nash plays like – well, Lewis Nash, which is a high compliment indeed.
Podcast 498 is my conversation with Vega, who since he left the Manhattan School of Music and The Juilliard School, where he studied with piano great Kenny Barron, has performed at a very high level. He replaced the late Mulgrew Miller as the pianist for world renowned bassist Ron Carter’s Golden Striker Trio. His last album, Spiritual was a trio recording with the solid-gold rhythm section of bassist Christian McBride and drummer Nash.
Musical selection from With Respect To Monty include "3000 Miles Ago", "The Gathering" and "Mango Rengue."