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"Growing up in the hills of St. Ann, Jamaica,...one thing was certain in our world: the greatest guitarist was Ernest Ranglin and the wickedest keyboard player was Monty Alexander."—Wayne Jobson, XM Satellite Radio (from the liner notes)
Before Monty Alexander became a jazz pianist of renown in the United States, he earned his stripes in the club scene of his native Jamaica. At the same time, he was an ambitious young session player pioneering an innovative, cross-cultural sound at Studio One—a world-famous recording house often referred to as the Motown of Jamaica. Still in his teens, Alexander was fusing and distilling the sounds of jazz, blues, soul and pop through a distinctly Jamaican musical filter. He and his contemporaries were forging a sound that eventually worked its way around the globe.
Decades later, Alexander revisits that fertile time and place with Rocksteady, a tribute to Jamaica's ska heyday of the late 1960s and early '70s. His special guest on the 12-track ride is guitarist Ernest Ranglin, who recorded side by side with Alexander in those early days under the guidance of legendary Jamaican producer Clement "Coxson" Dodd and behind such Jamaican ska icons as Toots and the Maytals, the Blues Blasters, Theophilous Beckford, Derrick Herriot, Roland Alfonso and many others.
Opening with Dave and Ansel Collins' "Double Barrel," one of Jamaica's first hits in America, Alexander and Ranglin deliver compelling renditions of the Skatellites' "Confucius," the Congos' "Fisherman's Row," the Heptones' "Fatty Fatty," Desmond Dekker's "Israelites," and Ken Booth's "Freedom Street." Burning Spear's "Marcus Garvey" is a reverent nod to the Jamaican national hero, while the slightly anachronistic "Redemption Song," penned by Bob Marley, closes the set.
"At the end of all this fun is something serious," says Alexander. "We threw in this one from another era out of respect to Bob. Bob is our greatest hero and prophet. He put Jamaican music on the map worldwide. He is our Duke Ellington."
Much of the magic of Rocksteady is conjured by the live groove of each track. No overdubs. No tricks. No effects. Just like the old days when Alexander and Ranglin were crafting the early Jamaican Studio One classics. Still a fan of the American Western mythos to this day, Alexander wanted the recording to reflect that cowboy/Western spirit from his youth—the same spirit of freedom and opportunity that inspired so many Jamaican youngsters of his generation. The inherent backbeat of ska and rocksteady, he maintains, sounds like horses hooves coming down the trail in a John Wayne movie.
Fans of the ska movement, past and present, can catch that live magic when Alexander takes the music on tour in the spring of 2004.