Monty Alexander

Calypso Blues: The Songs of Nat King Cole

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Monty Alexander follows up his tribute to Tony Bennett with an homage to another classic jazz singer, Nat King Cole. Also recorded in New York City at St. Peter's Episcopal Church with the same trio of Chicagoans Lorin Cohen on bass and drummer George Fludas, the veteran pianist seems more in his element with this artist's repertoire that sharply defined his personal sound and thinking about populist jazz. Though all of the tunes selected are not so closely linked to Cole's hit parade songbook, the way Alexander plays them with subtlety and depth certainly reflects what made Cole the king in the late '50s and early '60s. Though a competent singer, Alexander does not attempt vocalizing them, and that's all right. What he does is lovingly construct these melodies and extrapolate on them later -- the best way of honoring these great American popular songs. Though "Straighten Up and Fly Right" is not credited as it is in Ira Gitler's liner notes, it's a distinct part of and extant in the theme of the bluesy, two-fisted, and breezy "Can't See for Looking." "Ramblin' Rose" is not at all typical in a bouncy, cowpoke swing, and "Send for Me" has Alexander staggering the chord phrases as if he's juggling them, with double stops and bouncy stride or boogie-woogie inferences. Most typically Nat is the straight-ahead take of "Almost Like Being in Love," the short and sweet "Fascination," and the steamrolling "Sweet Georgia Brown," a tune Cole loved to tear it up on, showcasing Alexander at his best. The most unusual selections go into ethnic overtones, as "Hajji Baba" is Arabic in nature with its mystical exoticism and the storybook, childlike version of "Never Let Me Go" refers to Alexander's Caribbean roots, mixing a bossa nova and reggae feel into a light, cool whip. The CD is bookended with versions of the title track, where Alexander wields the melodica playfully, again in spicier Latin frames. With the immaculate sound and performance by this fine trio -- not to mention that they didn't exactly play Cole's songbook rote or by the numbers -- it's hard to fault the effort, heart, and soul behind this concept album that should delight many jazz listeners.

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