WBGO Radar

Monty Alexander: Harlem-Kingston Express Vol. 2: The River Rolls On

monty alexander harlem kingston express CD cover

Every time Monty Alexander sits down at the piano, he brings a world of music and experiences to life.

Since his arrival in the U.S., Alexander has thrilled audiences with his signature blend of jazz and the popular music of his native Jamaica.

At Jilly's, the New York City nightclub where he held court in the 1960s, you might find Duke Ellington, Ray Brown, Count Basie, Miles Davis and Milt Jackson in the audience as they drank from the well of Monty’s musical abilities.

He has recorded over seventy albums and performed with Dizzy Gillespie, Frank Sinatra, Sonny Rollins, Milt Jackson, Quincy Jones, Bobby McFerrin and his longtime friend, Ernest Ranglin.

The River Rolls On is the second CD by Monty's Harlem-Kingston Express, a followup to the collective's Grammy-nominated 2011 live album for Motema. The group embodies Alexander's desire to merge the two styles: Monty says while the recording was made in New York, it made him feel as if he was in a local club in his hometown of Kingston.

For this new one, Monty is joined by his core ensemble of Hassan Shakur on acoustic bass, guitarist Yotam Silberstein, and drummers Karl Wright and Obed Calvaire. They are joined by Earl Appleton on keyboards, electric bassist Joshua Thomas, guitarist Andy Bassford and percussionist Courtney Panton.

"Hurricane Come And Gone/Moonlight City" gets an immediate groove going. Throughout the record, Monty takes you back in the day, with reggae classics such as Jimmy Cliff’s "The Harder They Come" and Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song,” and soul hits such as “People Make The World Go Round” and Marvin Gaye's "What's Goin' On,” which Monty rechristens in Kingston patois as “Wa'a Gwan.”

Monty may show us a good time, but he draws from a very deep bag. The album contains a gorgeous version of Rodrigo’s "Concierto de Aranjuez," and "Linstead Market," a folk tune which honors the Jamaican open-air market that is to Monty what Congo Square was to early New Orleans.

On "Sleaky," he collaborates with an old friend, the bassist and arranger Johnny Pate, who made all those great records with Curtis Mayfield.

Monty turns 70 on June 6, but rather than slowing down, he's revving up for live celebrations of this mighty music. Catch the Express March 29th at the Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts, and in June B.B. King's in New York City.

Harlem-Kingston Express, Volume 2: The River Rolls On comes out April 8 on Motema Records. 

The audio for this Radar is no longer available. To preview or purchase, visit Amazon and iTunes.

   - Gary Walker, WBGO music director

Checkout more WBGO Radar...