Monty Alexander Trio: Live! At The Montreux Festival

Oscar Peterson's 'little West Indian counterpart' offers a lively and crowd-pleasing set with only a few aesthetic flaws

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This is a welcome remastered 1976 live performance by a then comparatively unknown young Jamaican pianist whom Oscar Peterson affectionately called “my little West Indian counterpart, Monty Alexander”. Monty, still performing at the age of 78, has a massive discography, and this album would serve as an excellent and instructive introduction to his talents.

Despite Oscar’s description, he is no longer to be regarded as an aspiring Peterson clone, but as a major innovator who has incorporated a variety of influences including gospel rhythms, reggae, boogie-woogie and West Indian instrumentations into his work.

The Montreux set opens with a gospel-tinged introduction to Ahmad Jamal’s Nite Mist Blues, which immediately captures his audience’s attention – and clapping participation. He then moves briefly into heavy-handed semi-Petersonian mode before sliding into a joyous four-four swing. On this, as on all tracks, Clayton and Hamilton (also in the early stages of their respectively illustrious careers) provide impeccable support. Feelings offers a total contrast – a pensive and sensitive interpretation of a then currently popular song.

Then, with less than complete success, Alexander attempts to deconstruct and reconstruct Ellington’s Satin Doll. Following an uptempo and rather hackneyed introduction, he rings the changes on the famous melody and makes brief exchanges with bass and drums before a hectic and slightly repetitive ride out. But it obviously caught the ears of his increasingly enthusiastic listeners.

Nat Adderley’s Work Song (running at over 13 minutes), is perhaps the best track, Alexander offering an extended and buoyant solo. He’s followed by a nimble-fingered Clayton, and the piece concludes with an intelligent and increasingly powerful show-stopping contribution from Hamilton. An initially gentle and gospel-inflected Drown In My Own Tears (associated with Ray Charles), segues into a robust performance – underwritten by drummer Hamilton – of The Battle Hymn Of The Republic which leaves a delirious audience clamouring for more.

In his original LP sleeve note, Mike Hennessey complimented these performances by “a genuine trio – three mutually compatible musicians who enjoy each other’s music – and not simply a brilliantly inventive pianist with rhythm accompaniment”. But he was cautioned by Alexander himself: “Don’t write too much about the music – just let it speak for itself.” It does.

Discography
Nite Mist Blues; Feelings; Satin Doll; Work Song; Drown In My Own Tears; Battle Hymn Of The Republic (46.58)
Alexander (p); John Clayton (b); Jeff Hamilton (d). Montreux Jazz Festival, 10 June 1976.
MPS 0211345MSW