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Monty Alexander: Live at the Iridium

Monty Alexander never met a genre he didn’t like, and he demonstrates that on his new release. Backed by bassist Hassan Shakur, drummer Mark Taylor and percussionist Robert Thomas Jr. on hand drums and drums, Alexander displays the varied influences that have shaped his musical evolution: bop, reggae, calypso, R&B and old-fashioned blues. The Jamaican-born pianist, who disdains labels, proclaims on his Web site, “I’m a musician who loves it all.”

“The Work Song” contains an unusual fusion of hand drums with composer Nat Adderley’s depiction of the sweat and strain in the cotton fields. It works beautifully, as does the percussive exchange of eights between Taylor and Thomas. Shakur also takes an excellent solo on the tune, revealing Alexander’s generosity with stretch-out time for his sidemen. “Slappin'” introduces more of the pianist’s roots: a bit of boogie-woogie and a shuffle leading to a cooking 12-bar blues. If anyone can keep still while listening to “Happylypso/Funji Mama,” rigor mortis has set in, and the original “Mount Zanda” is another high-voltage Caribbean caper, with one exception: it’s a high-propulsion fake book with at least five interpolations. Alexander has never been short on musical humor.

Ballads always separate the men from the boys, and two stand out: “My Mother’s Eyes” and “The River,” both quite reverential. “Little Darlin'” is in a class all its own. Shakur’s entry to his solo shows Ray Brown’s influence, and the tune reaches an inner climax thanks to Alexander’s full chorus of Oscar Peterson-like tremolos.

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