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The view from Jamaica

My America
My America
By Monty Alexander

Telarc Records: 2002


This review first appeared in the Autumn 2002 issue of Turbula.

Over the past four decades, Monty Alexander has carved out a respected role as one of the top jazz pianists in the states.

But before becoming an American jazzster, Monty was a kid growing up in Kingston, Jamaica during the late 1940s and '50s.

And so Alexander's latest album can best be explained by his immigrant's history – his appreciation of American culture comes from one who grew up seeing it from afar. "My America" represents a change of pace for Alexander, whose previous three albums had all focused on his Jamaican heritage. This newest release, though, while of course still steeped in his own personal roots, is dedicated to celebrating icons of American pop music.

From the cowboy movie ode of "Don't Fence Me In" to the easy listening of "Summer Wind," the R&B strains of Al Green's "Love and Happiness" to Ray Charles' gospel moorings in "Hallelujan I Love Her So," Alexander covers broad swaths of the American popular song.

In his sure hands, and with his fresh way of looking at American pop songs, Alexander shines new light on an old war horse like "Mack the Knife" (actually a German hit first!) by playing the lead on a melodica, then finds complexity and interest not evident in Marvin Gaye's original version of "Sexual Healing."

In the garden of delights that this CD is, the purest treat is having Freddy Cole sit in on vocals for a fun, uptempo little cover of Freddy's older brother Nat's first hit, "Straighten Up and Fly Right."