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Prime time piano

Live at the Iridium
Live at the Iridium
By Monty Alexander

Telarc Records: 2005


This review first appeared in Turbula in May 2005.

No excuses, now. No saying twenty, thirty, forty years from now, "I wish I'd checked out Monty Alexander while he was still alive." Because he's here, now, playing as much piano as anyone ever has, displaying a flourish for jazz that very few have. Firmly into his middle years, he's at the peak of his talents, at the very top of his game.

A new live album shows Alexander in his purest element – in the company of his quartet, in front of his fans, playing the American jazz he so loves.

The result is a glorious bit of straight-ahead jazz, music with a shine and shimmer that recalls the glory days of the music.

Those glory days are still here, at least when Alexander is on stage.

"Live at the Iridium" continues all the different, disparate trends of his last half-dozen studio albums – the exploration of country-western themes, the return to his Jamaican roots (check out the ska intro on the cover of Blue Mitchell's "Happylypso" or Robert Thomas' use of steel drum on "My Mother's Eyes"), and his continually growing exuberance for jazz.

That love of jazz has never been so evident as on his touching cover of the Count Basie vehicle "Little Darlin'." Playing his piano with much the same sustain that Basie used to get out of an organ, Alexander pulls his usual business back, adopting a good-size dose of Basie's reserve at the keyboard. It's as if Alexander is trying to remind us how Basie played this song, while still being Alexander. In other words, it's both Alexander and Basie and a remarkable distillation of both.

Sometimes being a fan is as much a matter of timing as anything else. And so maybe you were born too late to have caught Basie or Bud Powell or some of the earlier piano giants.

But Monty Alexander has joined their august company, and you're only cheating yourself if you don't take full advantage of that.