Monday, August 29, 2011

Monty Alexander and the Harlem-Kingston Express

I feel American and I feel Jamaican ..... It's like left hand and right hand (Quote: Monty Alexander)
Hans Koert


Monty Alexander's career in music spans 50 years and his discography as a leader, lists more then 70 albums. This summer his latest album was released entitled Harlem-Kingston Express. Monty Alexander started his career early 1960s when he moved with his family from Kingston ( Jamaica) to Florida. He started to perform in local clubs. In Jamaica he had heard the music of the local folk music, the calypso; the local rhythm and blues bands, but also jazz musicians that visited Jamaica, like Eddie Heywood and Erroll Garner were his heroes; the influence of Erroll Garner can still be heard in his piano playing. When he had heard Louis Armstrong and his All Stars, featuring Nat King Cole at a concert in the George VI Memorial Park in Kingston mid 1950s, a concert joined by more then 100,000 jazz fans, he knew that he wanted to become a musician like them ..... Louis became was "The King" for him.
Monty Alexander - Harlem-Kingston Express: Live at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola, NYC (MTM-67) ( Package design: Rebeca Meek)
I had one foot in the jazz camp and the other in the old-time folk music - no one more valuable than the other, he said in a recent Downbeat article ( Monty Alexander - One World of Music by Ted Panken (Downbeat May 2011). During the first decades of his career he got an own jazz identity; The title of his first album for Pacific Jazz ( 1964), entitled Alexander The Great goes without saying; he moved to New York, where he met great jazz men like Milt Jackson and Ray Brown. When he arrived in the States early 1960s he was, in fact, one of the numerous immigrants from the Caribbean, that tried to make a living there and he remembered that he tried to live and behave like an American. You come to America, you try to blind in and do what they do. At first I was even trying to speak like American people, so they wouldn't keep asking : Where do you come from?
The Monty Alexander Harlem-Kingston Express (photo courtesy: montyalexander.com)
His career was very successfully and with his trio, featuring piano, bass and drums. The 1976 Montreux-festival performances, with his Monty Alexander-John Clayton-Jeff Hamilton Trio, which was recorded and released by MPS, made them sought after performers for some years. Although Commander Zander's, as he is called by his friends since he was granted in 2000 with the national honour of Commander in the Order of Distinction by the Jamaican government, is a pure jazz musician, he didn’t forget his roots: The home spirit of Jamaican music has continued to enchant him and remind him of his roots all the while, Carter Van Pelt, a Jamaican music journalist, says in the liner notes of Monty's latest album Harlem-Kingston Express. ( MTM-67). This album was released last summer and wants to express the roots of Monty Alexander in a mix of compositions by the Jamaican icon Bob Marley, like The Heathen, Running Away and his 1984 hit No Woman No Cry, but also traditional folk songs from the island like Day-O, which became famous as the Banana Boat Song by crooners like Harry Belafonte, but which gets an extra, almost Arabic dimension thanks to Monty playing his Hammond 44 melodica.
Monty Alexander (photo courtesy: montyalexander.com)
Other tunes on the album are jazz standards like Miles Davis' Freddie Freeloader and Sweet Georgia Brown. Love to share with you one of the tunes, No Woman No Cry as it was played by Monty Alexander at the Festival Jazz des Cinq Continents in Marseille, France (July 2011)


Half a dozen tracks were recorded live at the Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola by Monty Alexander's Harlem-Kingston Express which had two rhythm sections: a Jamaican and a traditional jazz rhythm section. The other tracks are from European concerts, as the track list suggests, recorded between 2006 and 2009 at concerts in Jamaica, Germany, France and Holland. It's a pity that the cover of the album has but few information about these registrations. Are these tracks leftovers or rejected recordings which were never released? The booklet reads: ... pulled from Monty's extensive private stash of live recordings from around the globe. Being a Dutchman I'm anxious to learn where and when the tune No Woman No Cry was recorded, as played by Monty Alexander, piano, Hassan Shakur double bass and Dutch drummer Frits Landesbergen.
Frits Landesbergen plays the drums on one track of Monty Alexander's Harlem-Kingston Express ( photo courtesy: Hans Koert)
The album opens with a tune entitled Strawberry Hill, of course a reference to Fats Domino's Blueberry Hill, written by Monty Alexander together with his double bass player Glen Browne and drummer Desmond Jack Jones. The tune High Heel Sneakers fascinated me because in Monty's hands this well known twelve-bar blues, originally sung and written by Tommy Tucker (whose real name was Robert Higginbotham) becomes a very swinging tune, like the traditional Sweet Georgia Brown, also on this album - Monty at his best .......... In the tune King Tubby Meets The Rockers Uptown, which was originally recorded in Kingston, Jamaica in 1976 by both Dub pioneer Osbourne "King Tubby" Ruddock and reggae melodica and keyboard player Augustus Pablo, both rhythm groups set their stamps, which makes it a varied Caribbean and swinging jazz track .......... And according to my whims, as I start playing the music, and the spirit moves me, I say, "I think I want to go Uptown right now. We're going to go to 125th Street (Harlem),". Bap! and I give it to the (Jazz) trio. Then I say, "alright, we're going right down to Trenchtown (Kingston)" and then at the right moment, I invite everybody to share in this world experience. ( Monty Alexander as quoted by Carter Van Pelt). I guess that Monty plays the melodica ( it's not mentioned in the info), an instrument you might label as an instrument for children, but in fact an instrument popular and important in reggae music, due to musicians like Augustus Pablo.

Love to share with you a promo for this Monty Alexander's Harlem-Kingston Express

It's a pity that the discographical information of his great record is very poor for half of the tracks; it only informs that these tracks were recorded between 2006 and 2009 in Jamaica and Europe - food for discographers ............. Never mind if you're only interesting in swinging music ........ This Monty Alexander album is a must ............

Hans Koert
keepswinging@live.nl
Monty Alexander, born in Jamaica, moved to the States 50 years ago, where he became one of the leading US jazz piano players nowadays. His swinging trio recordings remind the great Oscar Peterson Trio and if he plays you can hear that he was fascinated by the great Erroll Garner. But his roots are located in Kingston, Jamaica, his native region - the island of reggae music. Recently his latest album, Harlem-Kingston Express was released, where he plays with two rhythm sections: one to express his Caribian roots and the others for his swinging jazz tunes: And according to my whims, he says in the liner notes, as I start playing the music, and the spirit moves me, I say, "I think I want to go Uptown right now. We're going to go to 125th Street (Harlem),". Bap! and I give it to the (Jazz) trio. Then I say, "alright, we're going right down to Trenchtown (Kingston)" and then at the right moment, I invite everybody to share in this world experience. A great album - a great experience. Keep Swinging loves to inform you to this kind of high standard jazz albums. If you don't want to miss it, follow the blog at Twitter (#keepswinging) or ask for its free newsletter ( keepswinging@live.nl)

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