By the time Monty Alexander brings “When the Saints Go Marching In” to a chord-crashing close, it’s clear he won’t have to audition twice to be “in that number.” Other keyboard candidates may want to rethink things.
Like Uplift, its chart-topping predecessor, Uplift2 is predominantly devoted to mood-elevating arrangements, inspired, in this instance, by several pop and jazz standards and a spiritual folk anthem. All are trio performances, derived from a series of live recordings made around the globe, featuring rotating lineups: bassist John Clayton and drummer Jeff Hamilton; bassist Hassan Shakur and drummer Frits Landesbergen. Clayton and Hamilton, Alexander’s longtime collaborators, leave the strongest impression, but the pairing of Shakur and Landesbergen is consistently enjoyable and certainly a big part of why the pianist’s take on Sonny Rollins’ “St. Thomas” is so rhythmically tight and engaging.
The album opens, however, with “Battle Hymn,” in which Alexander, Clayton and Hamilton fervently demonstrate why there’s no need for separation between church harmony and swing drive. The pianist is in typical form throughout the album, which is to say he’s aiming to please his audience with a blend of bravura, wit and invention. Along the way, he gets a chance to pay homage to numerous piano influences, directly and indirectly, including Ahmad Jamal via “Night Mist Blues” and Duke Ellington via “I Love You Madly.” If you have to choose between the first and second editions of this series, let the tune choices be your guide. But don’t be surprised if one Uplift swiftly leads to another.