Monty Alexander ‘Here Comes The Sun’ LP/CD (MPS) 4/5

The back catalogue of the eclectic MPS label can turn up a few gems and this is definitely one of them. Jamaican pianist Monty Alexander in the early part of his career worked as a session musician at Studio One for Coxsone Dodd, but his wish was always to play jazz, albeit with a distinctive Jamaican sabor, and he would migrate to the States and record initially for Pacific Jazz. Interestingly, it was a south German label in the Black Forest that ensured he would be heard by a wider public and this fine 1971 recording in New York is one of the earliest examples of Alexander combining Caribbean flavours and jazz. A rim drum solo introduces the straight ahead Latin excursion that is, ‘Montevideo’, with the pianist in adventurous full flight on this breeziest of numbers. Calypso hues emerge on, ‘Brown Skin Girl’, with fine percussion from Calypsonian conga player, Montego Joe and Monty Alexander introduces some delightful Latin vamps on piano here. Indeed, it is Alexander’s ability to breathe new life into well-known pop tunes and jazz standards that cemented his reputation and both are showcased here. For the former, a soulful rendition of George Harrison’s ‘Here Comes The Sun’, settles on a sedate tempo, with melodic percussion accompaniment adding to the listener’s pleasure. The best is left until last on this album with an epic ten and a half-minute interpretation of the classic Miles Davis piece, ‘So What’. Departing from the original, Alexander retains the main riff, but then goes off in another direction with his piano improvisations over a funk-tinged tempo, with Montego Joe adding that extra layer of texture. In a more straight ahead vein. A trio only version of ‘Love Walked In’, demonstrates his mainstream jazz credentials while his stylish balladry work is evidenced on ‘Where Is Love?’, with blues inflections emphasised to the max.

Tim Stenhouse