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Monty Alexander: Wareika Hill (RastaMonk Vibrations) (MACD)

A review of the Jamaican-born pianist's album of Thelonious Monk reinterpretations

Monty Alexander, Wareika Hill (RastaMonk Vibrations)
The cover of Wareika Hill (RastaMonk Vibrations) by Monty Alexander

“Like a Rastafarian in Jamaica, he was different,” Jamaican-born pianist Monty Alexander says of Thelonious Monk, whom he first heard in person at New York City’s legendary Five Spot in 1963. Monk soon became a major influence on Alexander’s music, which was rooted in the reggae and ska of his native country as well as the jazz he absorbed first in Kingston studios and later when he moved to New York. On Wareika Hill (RastaMonk Vibrations), a collection of fresh reinterpretations of Monk gems, Alexander effectively nails his hero’s idiosyncrasies.

Recorded over the course of several years, the album features Alexander and a core group of players plus a few guests, including guitarist John Scofield, who injects keening, wah-edged lines into the rub-a-dub of “Bye-Ya.” Joe Lovano delivers an edgy tenor romp on a percussion-heavy “Green Chimneys,” which opens up for a piano solo that has the leader tossing in an introductory quote of John Barry’s James Bond theme.

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Philip Booth

Philip Booth is a longtime arts journalist and bass player based in Florida. Formerly the pop music critic for the Tampa Tribune, he has contributed to many national publications, recently including the Washington PostJazziz, and Relix. His byline also has appeared in DownBeat, Bass Player, Billboard, Variety, Spin, Rolling Stone, and several academic journals. The debut CD from his band, Acme Jazz Garage, gained airplay on about 35 radio stations across the US.