"What makes Monty Alexander's music so enjoyable? The answer is in the word. It's the joy of it. Not happiness, which is something quite different. You achieve happiness with shortcuts. Joy is hard won. Monty learned his music in the trenches." —ethnomusicologist William Edgar, from the liner notes
Monty Alexander was still a teenager when he left his native Jamaica and headed for the trenches of the U.S. jazz scene in the early 1960s. In the forty-plus years since, he has carved a unique niche in the annals of jazz by grafting his cross-cultural sensibilities to a uniquely American art form. Along the way, his creative identity has been enriched by relationships with some of the greatest names in American popular music—Dizzy Gillespie, Herb Ellis, Ray Brown, Frank Sinatra, Les Paul and many more.
Alexander brings this rich history to bear on his new Telarc recording, Live at the Iridium, an album that culls some of the finest compositions from his own vast catalog and merges them with a few numbers from composers he has long admired. Recorded in May 2004 at the New York City jazz club, Live at the Iridium showcases Alexander's vast musical prowess—not just as a musician or a jazz man, but as the consummate entertainer, one whose experience spans nearly a half-century, and whose emotional range reaches far beyond the notes on a page or the keys on his piano.
Backed by bassist Hassan Shakur and drummer Mark Taylor (with occasional assistance from Robert Thomas, Jr., on percussion), Alexander once again maximizes the versatile trio setting that has stood him in good stead for much of his career. Live at the Iridium is a bluesy recording, but not without a gospel edge as well. The album opens with "The Work Song," Nat Adderley's rhythmic tribute to hard times in the cotton fields and on the railroads. "Slappin'" is short for "Slappin' the Boogie," a down-home blues number highlighting Taylor's remarkable skills. "That's the Way It Is," a longtime favorite of Alexander's, has a fundamental R&B sensibility, and showcases the inexhaustible riffs and licks Monty has up his sleeves.
"My Mother's Eyes," first unveiled in the 1929 film Lucky Boy, is a poignant ballad that has since been covered by artists as diverse as Sonny Stitt and Nancy Sinatra. Although his is an instrumental rendition, Alexander puts his own stamp on the tune by exploring the spiritual and emotional elements of the song's original lyrics. Likewise, he makes a direct statement about his faith in "The River." Towards the end of the set, he takes the deceptively simple "Little Darlin'" and adds layer upon layer until the tune reaches a compelling crescendo.
Together, the songs tell a rich story. Check out Live at the Iridium and experience the joy that has underscored Monty Alexander's long and diverse career.