|Harlem-Kingston Express Live|
by Willard Manus
Jamaican-born pianist Monty Alexander has taken the reggae-flavored music of his beloved island, mixed it with a pitcherful of jazz, and given it a good shake. The result is a heady brew, HARLEM-KINGSTON EXPRESS: LIVE, his first album for the Motema label.
Alexander left Kingston, Jamaica in 1961 to join (as a teenager) the Frank Sinatra band. Later stints with Tony Bennett, Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Rollins and Milt Jackson gave him the experience and chops to not only play like a master, but become a much sought-after composer and arranger as well.
Alexander's gifts are on display in HKX, a CD that contains ten tracks, all of which were recorded live in places like New York Jamaica, Germany, France and Holland. Alexander came up with a new sound by setting up "Harlem," a traditional jazz rhythm section on his left, and "Kingston," a Carbibbean band on his right. With "Commander Zander" leading the way from his center-stage piano, the two bands blend seamlessly and liltingly as they reinvigorate three Bob Marley tunes, two jazz classics, and several Alexander originals.
The music on HKX sounds fresh, inventive and joyous. Alexander truly does give Caribbean jazz "The Full Monty."