Monty Alexander – The Montreux Years

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Jazz pianist Monty Alexander is one of those rarefied artists whose legacy far outweighs record sales, or any other form of material success. Having played and associated with some of music’s biggest names (Frank Sinatra, Miles Davis, Bob Marley) Monty managed to remain level-headed, and that humility shines through every note of The Montreux Years. While this set is released under his name, this collection is a collaborative affair which finds Monty in a variety of guises, that’s unified by invention and a desire to explore new musical realms.

Culled from performances spanning 23 years, this collection begins with ‘Serpent’, a Monty solo affair that showcases his spellbinding dexterity. It’s a track best experienced through headphones to fully appreciate his skill, as he plays one rhythm with his left hand, and another with his right. It’s a mind-blowing listen as he races up and down the scales, and us mere mortals can only marvel at the gift God bestowed upon him. From this 1995 recording we fast-forward to 2016 for two tracks recorded with the Harlem Kingston Express. They evidence Monty as a team player, and he steps back on ‘Work Song’ to allow drummer Jason Brown to deliver a rousing solo. Sometimes as an artist it’s not what you play, but what you don’t, and Monty leaves plenty of space, not only for other instruments to come to the fore, but also to allow the listener to infer their own meaning in the song. That’s best exemplified by the following ‘Hurricane Come And Gone’, a track that’s progressive in nature. From its humble beginnings, it turns into a raging tempest, with Monty’s keys falling like rain and the guitar and saxophone each soloing and sweeping from speaker to speaker like a musical maelstrom.

Monty Alexander is the type of artist who demands your full attention, and he operates like a magician with sleight of hand. ‘Night Mist Blues’ has a hypnotic motif that masks an almost imperceptible layering of sound, before Monty provides the ultimate magic trick with an unexpected musical twist, a rude awakening that suddenly shatters the spell. Whittling down over 200 songs to form this album was an unenviable task, but the selection is spot on, and each track represents a different facet to the multidimensional Monty. Without the finger gymnastics, ‘Crying’ reveals a haunting, sensitive side to Alexander’s playing, but the real revelation is a reworking of Bob Marley’s ‘No Woman No Cry’. It’s a tender rendition that’s not only testament to Monty’s playing, but the malleability of Marley’s song writing. However, in true Monty style, he turns on a dime and launches straight into an upbeat version of ‘Get Up And Stand Up’. As with much of his work, it’s a strange juxtaposition, but he makes it work. Monty Alexander never got due credit for his fusion of free form jazz and the more regimented reggae; they’re two almost opposite genres but he brings them together on closer ‘Nod To Bob’, another tribute to Mr Marley during which he teases the crowd with the refrain from ‘Lively Up Yourself’ and it brings the curtain down in spectacular fashion.

Available on vinyl and compact disc, this release is the ultimate summation of Monty Alexander’s musical prowess. Now well into his seventh decade, Monty Alexander still has something of the pioneer spirit about him, and if proof were ever needed, then it’s all here in The Montreux Years.

Track List:

  1. The Serpent *
  2. Work Song **
  3. Hurricane Come And Gone **
  4. Night Mist Blues ***
  5. Linstead Market ****
  6. Crying *
  7. No Woman No Cry/Get Up Stand Up (Medley) ****
  8. Renewal ****
  9. The Pawnbroker **** ^
  10. A Nod To Bob *

* Monty Alexander’s Jamaican Project (Live At Miles Davis Hall, 1995)

** Monty Alexander & Harlem Kingston Express (Live At Casino Barrière, 2016)

*** Monty Alexander & Harlem Kingston Express (Live At Montreux Jazz Club, 2014)

**** Monty Alexander Trio (Live At Auditorium Stravinski, 1993)

^ Not on CD version