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.
The seventh album for Monty on the Concord Jazz label has bassist Ray Brown and drummer Frank Gant lending
sterling support. As is always the case with an Alexander album, the tunes reflect Montys broad musical interests and discriminating taste.
The kickoff selection is Miles Davis blues a la mode, Freddie Freeloader, highlighted by Montys earthy improvisations over Rays driving bass line. Monty gets inside the piano for a bit of string strumming to embellish the trios poignantly beautiful Latin treatment of Antonio Carlos Jobims Once I Loved. Rays Idea is indeed a Brown conception, one brilliantly orchestrated by Gil Fuller for the Dizzy Gillespie big band of 1946, of which Ray was a precocious 18-year-old member. A landmark in big band bebop, the tune was included in the album at Montys suggestion. Ray, in fact, had to have his memory of his own brainstorm refreshed before the sparkling trio version heard here could be crystallized.
Next up is a gorgeous solo piano treatment by Monty of Because Youre Mine, title song of a Mario Lanza movie and one of several beautiful early 1950s ballads written by Russian-born film composer Nikolaus Brodszky (Be My Love and Wonder Why are among his other notable creations). Mick Jaggers and Keith Richards I Cant Get No Satisfaction takes on a new dimension of soul in the trios high speed version of this Rolling Stones hit, Monty offering a touch of comic relief at the conclusion of the piece. Rodgers and Hammersteins Happy Talk, a curiously neglected gem from South Pacific, emerges fresher than ever as the Side Two opener. From here the trio segues into Estate (pronounced es-tot-ay and meaning summer in Italian), a touching lament written by two Italian Brunos, namely Brighetti and Martino. Montys piano is at its lyrical best, and Brown provides a profound amen coda. Randy Westons march-like jazz classic, Hi-Fly gets a loving treatment from the trio, and a sneakily playful introduction by Monty leads into a rousing Just Friends that climaxes a regal, full-course musical feast.
This album is going to be around as long as there are ears to appreciate the versatile genius of Monty Alexander. - Gordon Raddue
Numbered, Limited Edition
1/2 Speed Mastering by Stan Ricker
Mastered from the Original Master Tapes
Deluxe HQ-180 Gram Double Vinyl
3 Bonus Tracks featuring Herb Ellis and John Frigo
Audiophile Inner Sleeves
Pressed at RTI
Monty Alexander, piano
Ray Brown, bass
Frank Gant, drums
1. Freddie Freeloader
2. Once I Loved
3. Ray's Idea
4. Because You're Mine
5. I Can't Get No Satisfaction
6. Happy Talk
2. Just Friends
3. Straighten Up and Fly Right
4. High Heeled Sneakers