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Monty Alexander: Goin’ Yard

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In Jamaican parlance, “goin’ yard” means going home, and in the case of veteran pianist Monty Alexander, it also serves as the title and central theme of this exhilarating CD, recorded live at Pittsburgh’s Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild. By delivering a gripping program of originals, a couple Bob Marley tunes, an Augustus Pablo composition and the Jamaican classic “Day-O,” Alexander and his septet transported their highly enthusiastic audience from the Steel City to the white sandy beaches of Kingston.

A commanding pianist, who combines the huge sounds of Kenny Barron and Randy Weston with the cliff-hanging orchestrations of Ahmad Jamal and the deceptively simple elegance of Abdullah Ibrahim, Alexander opens with his composition “The Serpent,” a dazzling duet with Weather Report’s former percussionist Robert Thomas Jr. Alexander’s lower-register piano tremolos evoke a suspenseful vibe, which heightens with Thomas’ insistent hand-percussion patterns. This provides the perfect launching pad for Alexander to pound out a simple melody that he embellishes wonderfully with quick concussive jabs, flinty trills and blues phrasing. After the brief “The Serpent,” the rest of the ensemble joins in on the thumping “Grub” and they simply give it up throughout the rest of the date.

With Jamaica being synonymous with Bob Marley in the U.S., it’s no surprise that the audience goes ape-shit when Alexander delivers a passionate rendition of Marley’s “Could You Be Loved.” With drummer Desmond Jones both spanking the groove and grounding it with a rock-steady beat, guitarist Glen Browne and keyboardist Dwight Dawes contribute a raw, raunchy rhythmic counterpoint to Thomas’ proactive accompaniment and Alexander’s evocative treatment of the melody, which grows harder and more bluesy with each eight-bars. They revisit Marley later in the program with “Exodus.”

Alexander simmers the hurricane of percolating percussion and Rasta grooves down to an evocative ballad on his original “Trust,” where his initial misty melody morphs into a gospel hymn atop a leisurely Afro-Caribbean groove. The same quietude flickers at the beginning on the gorgeous original “Hope,” with Alexander’s cascading notes gushing into a waterfall of low-register rumbles, before charging forcefully ahead into a swift reggae stomp. Closing with a dublike treatment of “Day-O,” it’s apparent from the exuberant applause that Alexander brought plenty of sunshine to Pittsburgh.