I have to admit that when I first received this album to review that I was completely unfamiliar with the music of Monty Alexander. That's one of the most humbling things about exploring jazz: with each bit of knowledge you obtain, you realize how far-reaching this music is. But I digress.
Here's a quick overview on Alexander's career. Born in 1944 in Kingston, Jamaica, he was attracted to jazz at an early age after seeing Louis Armstrong in concert. At the age of seventeen, Alexander moved to Miami. In 1963 he replaced Les McCann in the Pacific Jazz label's soul jazz line-up. In 1967 Alexander moved to New York and joined Minton's Playhouse, featuring Jimmy Cobb. He was heard by Ray Brown and Milt Jackson and soon was working with each individually and as a trio.
Alexander's musical style is influenced heavily from Art Tatum, Erroll Garner, Oscar Peterson, and the early ska stylings of his homeland (Alexander has recorded an album of Bob Marley songs and collaborated with the seminal drum and bass duo of Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare). Even when playing pure jazz, Alexander pays homage to the Caribbean roots. In short, Monty Alexander is jazz's Jamaican answer to Chucho Valdes.
Alexander's new album, "Goin' Yard" ("yard" being Jamaican slang for "home"), is a wonderful introduction to the man's music. Recorded over two nights last October in Pittsburgh's popular jazz venue, the Manchester Craftsmen's Guild, "Goin' Yard" is a celebration of the musics that shaped Alexander's style.
The blending of reggae, ska, and dub rhythms with post-bop melodies is something to behold. From the rollicking dub of "King Tubby Meets the Rockers Uptown" to the wonderfully understated "Skankin' Lennox", Alexander and his band weave a tapestry that holds together under the weight of Alexander's ambition. In the hands of anyone else, Bob Marley classics like "Could You Be Loved" and "Exodus", and the traditional "Day-O" would have come across as smooth jazz filler. Alexander updates the songs while maintaining the spirit of the original compositions.