Monty Alexander


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Back in the '20s and early '30s -- when stride piano reigned supreme -- it wasn't uncommon for jazz pianists to perform unaccompanied. In fact, it was the norm for James P. Johnson, who was one of the greatest stride pianists of that era and was a major influence on Fats Waller and many others. But for bop pianists, performing unaccompanied is the exception instead of the rule; so when a major bop-oriented pianist decides to record without either a bassist or a drummer, it is a special treat. And the solo piano format serves Monty Alexander pleasingly well on Solo, a collection of unaccompanied performances from 1980 and 1987. Because he doesn't have to worry about what any other musicians are doing or thinking, Alexander has plenty of room to move around his instrument freely -- and the Jamaican pianist sounds delightfully uninhibited on several original pieces as well as inspired performances of Oscar Pettiford's "Tricotism," the standard "My One and Only Love," and the Nat King Cole hit "Mona Lisa" (a gem that, although quite famous, hasn't been totally beaten to death by jazz instrumentalists over the years). Alexander briefly acknowledges the pre-bebop history of jazz piano on "Too Marvellous," which starts out as a bop performance but detours into some stride-influenced playing of the James P. Johnson/Willie "The Lion" Smith variety. And the three-part "Boogie Variations" is Alexander's spirited tribute to the boogie-woogie pianism of Meade "Lux" Lewis and his colleagues. But Solo is a bop disc first and foremost -- and it is also a memorable demonstration of what Alexander is capable of doing by himself.

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