Monty Alexander: My America

This is his America, all right, but Monty Alexander captures its essence by relying on his Jamaican roots. What emerges is a very personal paean to Alexander’s adopted country in a context he has often employed: Caribjazz. It amounts to a party that gives Alexander a dozen opportunities to pay tribute to those artists who influenced him when he was a kid in Kingston: Louis Armstrong, Nat Cole, Frank Sinatra, Duke Ellington, Ray Charles, Al Green, Bill Doggett, James Brown, Marvin Gaye and, would you believe, Roy Rogers?

The very first track, “Don’t Fence Me In,” shows Alexander at his humorous best, but it also sets the pattern for the rest of the album: the familiar brilliant pianistic flashes, often on the verge of breaking out and swinging, but his reggae-saturated rhythm section keeps him in a Jamaican straitjacket. “Rockin’ in Riddim” is a Caribbean tour de force, a way-up salute to Duke’s “Rockin’ in Rhythm. James Brown’s “Sex Machine” is an infectious fusion of Latin and rock that tends to rush out of control. Alexander even manages to blend gospel and reggae in “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Adding to the party atmosphere are vocals by Freddy Cole, Kevin Mahogany and John Pizzarelli. Alexander doubles on melodica for “Mack the Knife.”

Yes, My America is a blast, but it doesn’t wear well. I miss the more durable, straightahead Alexander. You know, the full Monty.