The late jazz pianist James Williams made the following observations a few years ago in the University of Memphis alumni magazine : " What I play is feel-good music. Some of it is simple; some of it is complex, but it is all about having a good time" and, "We all stand on the shoulders of a lot of people."
Seems to me that Jamaican-born Monty Alexander buys into the Williams philosophy. He stands on the broad shoulders of Nat Cole and Oscar and yet the music he produces is very much his own. His approach to the relaxed Basie favorite,"Little Darlin'," is very much in the Count's groove. Yet Alexander uses a whimsical entrance, tremolos and glisses, to build an intense and individualistic solo. Hassan Shakur also displays his strength on bass.
Another pair of shoulders may belong to Sonny Rollins, who shares Alexander's Caribbean heritage. Each has the ability to find jazz in the most unlikely of tunes, even cowboy songs! "Way Out West" is a Rollins collectors' item and 'I'm a Lone Cowhand" was one of Alexander's early recorded performances. "My Mother's Eyes" may be an "unlikely" but Alexander uses it to demonstrate his sensitive ballad touch. He starts by just teasing out those notes, building to a swinging wind-up. The group then combines Blue Mitchell's rollicking calypso."Happylypso," and his hard-driving "Fujimama" (related to a certain well-known Gershwin tune).
Nat Adderly's "Work Song" illustrates Alexander's crisp fingering and two-fisted block chords. However, as true throughout the session, this is is a group experience. Check out those trades between Mark Taylor's drum kit and Robert Thomas's hand drums! And there's always the blues, represented by Sly Stone's "Runnin' Away" and two Alexander originals. Alexander has both a light-hearted and a spiritual side. His catchy samba, "Mount Zanda" has room for three blind mice, "So What" chords, and a "Brazil" conclusion. "The River,"with its rill-suggesting intro, is peaceful and contemplative.
Those were great nights at the Iridium in May 2004!