Having solidly established his reputation as an invigorating jazz pianist, whose primary objective in every performance is to engage the audience in his music, Monty Alexander has been going back to the Jamaican music with which he started his professional career while he was still a teen, especially so ever since he signed with Telarc. Indeed, all of Alexander’s Telarc CD’s, even My America,
include doses of Jamaican feel, which apparently is an important component of Alexander’s recent performances. Alexander and legendary Jamaican guitarist Ernest Ranglin have recorded separately on Telarc, but now for the first time they are reunited on the same album, Rocksteady,
after more than three decades of recording separately. And so, Rocksteady
is somewhat a retrospective, recalling their work at Studio One in Kingston where they actively helped to develop the Jamaican music in the 1960’s and early 1970’s before it reached its peak in the popularity of Bob Marley. Even though Bob Marley is gone, two of the primary innovators of the music are still with us, and now, still recording.
Preconceptions about Jamaica may seem at odds with the CD package’s photograph of Alexander drawing his melodica on Ranglin, who’s about to return fire with his guitar, as if they’re Old West gunfighters in front of modern concrete structures, presumably in Jamaica. But according to Alexander, cowboy movies were very popular in Jamaica, and the accents on the second and fourth beats of ska and reggae derive from approximations of the sound of horses’ hooves, whether in trot, canter or gallop. And so, the CD’s first track, "Double Barrel," which was the first Jamaican hit in the U.S., borrows from the cowboy symbolism as well.
Anyone who expects Alexander to break into the jazz improvisation of his Concord recordings or his participation in the Ray Brown trio will keep listening for it until the CD ends, for all of Rocksteady
involves recollection of the music they played in Jamaica’s nascent recording industry: the Congos’ "Fisherman’s Row," Burning Spear’s "Marcus Garvey," Ken Booth’s "Freedom Street" and the Skatellites’ "Confucius." To help complete the reunion, Toots Hibbert, of Toots and the Maytals and whom Ranglin brought to the attention of Studio One producer Clement Coxson Dodd, sings on "Pressure Drop."
From "Stalag 17’s" lazing melody over the lightly snapping Jamaican beat to the final Bob Marley meditation that is "Redemption Song," Rocksteady
comprises a musical reminiscence of Jamaican ska, rocksteady and reggae as the music was being formed and before the rest of the world became aware of the music that characterized the island. And, it reminds listeners of the influence of Monty Alexander even before he moved to Miami with his mother in 1961.... and onto a forty-year musical career with some of the entertainment industry’s, and jazz’s, biggest names.