Although Jamaican pianist Monty Alexander is the quintessential interpreter of Caribbean roots in a jazz context, he is equally in his element with good ol’ American bop and blues in the vein of Nat Cole and Oscar Peterson. On the aptly titled Uplift, Alexander and company reinvent rhythm at every turn, turning swing into blues, blues to bop and bop to calypso, all the while saluting the wider canon of Western music.
The recording samples live performances dating 2007-2010 that bring the listener close to the energy. With a masterful pulse-setting team of bassist Hassan Shakur and drummer Herlin Riley (with Frits Landesbergen on two tracks), the six wide-ranging covers and four Alexander originals are stamped with the pianist’s trademark ferocious swing and playful “name that tune” book of quotations. Starting out in full flight on “Come Fly With Me,” Alexander picks up a blue head of steam with “One Mint Julep.” The trio’s rendition of “Sweet Georgia Brown” is the stuff that pleases crowds and wows hoity-toity listeners with its passing quotes from Bizet to Monk. “Django” begins and ends as a reverent hymn, while on “Body & Soul,” Alexander sidesteps with “Mary Had a Little Lamb” before framing the theme as a swaying waltz. Soon it’s back to name-that-tune, as quotes (Rossini, Strauss, Gershwin) whiz by seamlessly, ending in Tatum-esque cascades.
In addition to his swampy “Renewal,” Alexander closes with three originals: the darkly majestic “Hope” and the calypso medley of “Home” and “Fungii Mama,” splashed with heavy doses of Monk. Simply put, this album is a joy.