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Sunday, November 12, 2006

jazz & reggae

Jazz Notes

Monty Alexander returns to the ‘reggae wellspring’


    This week, Herbie Miller examines the Air Jamaica jazz line-up in light of the roster in the recently held Anguilla tranquility jazz festival and we interview renowned Jamaican jazz pianist, Monty Alexander, whose latest CD Concrete Jungle, returns to the work of late reggae king Bob Marley, an oeuvre which has inspired the jazz man on several previous occasions.
    But first, this column says ‘rest in peace’ to a great champion of jazz and one of the very best newsmen of our time, Emmy award-winning 60 Minutes correspondent Ed Bradley. Bradley died of leukaemia this past week, aged 65.
    He spent his formative adult years as a jazz DJ, an activity he regarded more as a vocation than a career, and remained a vocal - and visible - advocate of the art form. Ironically, Bradley made the move from jazz into journalism because he felt it would afford him the standard of living and professional opportunities he sought. He was an inspiration to this writer in both spheres and will certainly be missed.
    “IT beats working” is how the ever affable Monty Alexander summed up his continued motivation for playing jazz piano Alexander is in his fifth decade as an artiste and his schedule remains packed enough to belie the easy answer he offers. On tap over the next several months is a performance on the Jazz Cruise, a full-ship straight-ahead jazz on the seas showcase, a tour of Europe, and a 30-year reunion at the Montreux festival in Switzerland with his cohorts in the Clayton-Hamilton group. And oh yes, in January, he returns home as part of the line-up for the 2007 Air Jamaica Jazz and Blues festival, a slot which he has in fact occupied several times over the history of the event.
    “It’s home, so that alone just gives me great pleasure everytime I play here,” he said via telephone. “More than that, I’m planning to invite a few friends who I’ve played with and whose music I’ve enjoyed over the years. Guys like Freddie Cole [brother of Nat ‘King’ Cole], [saxophonist] Houston Person and Red Holloway, among others.”
    Preceding his arrival on home soil, Alexander also returns to familiar territory on record. His new disc, Concrete Jungle (Telarc) plumbs the archives of the late Robert Nesta Marley. Marley’s music has become something of a touchstone for the pianist, with a previous tribute album, Stir It Up and with other single nods to the ‘Gong’ including outstanding takes on Running Away (from his Live At The Iridium album), and, in tandem with Ernie Ranglin, Redemption Song.
    “Bob’s music has given me so much personal pleasure and delight over the course of my life and career. Every song has given me insight into how to live a better life.”
    For this particular outing, Alexander first managed to persuade the label to allow for recording to be done here in Jamaica rather than in the US. “I thought it was important for us to do that and I convinced them to let us do the record in Jamaica. Unfortunately, I almost had to cancel because of some difficulties at Customs, but fortunately we were able to resolve those and get it done.”
    The ‘us’ and ‘we’ therein referred to includes a cast of fine musicians, Jamaican and overseas-based, who contributed to the disc, including Glen Browne, Dean Fraser, Othniel Lewis, Hassan Shakur, and Delfeayo Marsalis and Herlin Riley.
    The latter two, trombonist and drummer respectively, represent the famous Marsalis jazz family of New Orleans, Delfeayo as brother of trumpter Wynton (and an acclaimed performer and producer in his own right) and Riley as drummer in Wynton’s septet and his Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra “It’s just amazing how things just came together, how we were able to bridge the US Afro-American experience and the Jamaican experience and the affinity those guys have for reggae and for the culture as a whole”, Alexander notes.

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