Monty Alexander

Stir It Up: The Music of Bob Marley

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How do you reconcile a harmonically basic, rhythmically upside-down idiom like Bob Marley's reggae with the bop-derived environment in which pianist Monty Alexander usually works? Indeed, Alexander prefers not to choose, gambling audaciously by combining a six-piece Jamaican reggae rhythm section, the Gumption Band, with a three-piece jazz rhythm team. That makes for an interesting tussle; one rhythm section surges in front of the other and vice versa in a constant battle for supremacy (the Gumption Band usually comes off as the more dominant force). Sometimes Monty is limited to just a single right-hand line ("Is This Love?"); a '90s equivalent of those '60s albums where mainstream bopsters restrained themselves trying to cover Top 40 tunes. Not until "Stir It Up," which sounds a bit like Ahmad Jamal getting into the reggae groove, does Monty at last sound like a melodically free man. "No Woman, No Cry" ignites midway with a good fusion of a pure reggae groove and some harmonically advanced jazz, "So Ja Sah" has a swinging union of the two sections that also respects Marley's unusual rhythmic concept, and there is a hot remix of "Could You Be Loved" as a bonus track (with master drummer Sly Dunbar). Guest trombonist Steve Turre seems right at home with the reggae gait on "Running Away" and gets a straight-ahead bop solo in a slightly frenetic "I Shot the Sheriff." There isn't any doubt that Alexander loves Marley's music -- listen to his simple, touching Marley elegy "Nesta (He Touched the Sky)" -- yet this attempt to pay homage only comes together in patches.

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