Monty Alexander

Straight Ahead

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While Concord continues to release excellent mainstream jazz albums, the label also has an extraordinary back catalog from the '70s and the '80s. Straight Ahead packages two albums -- Trio (1981) and Overseas Special(1984) -- by pianist Monty Alexander, guitarist Herb Ellis, and bassist Ray Brown. The first disc captures the happy meeting of musical minds as the participants explore nine bubbly tunes. While the band can certainly cook on a piece like "I Want to Be Happy," the drummer-less trio brings a lighter touch to classics like "Sweet Georgia Brown." The four-to-five minute length of most of these songs leaves room for extended solos while retaining the taut, intimate feel of good trio work. The live Overseas Special was recorded almost two years later at the Satin Doll Club in Tokyo, and makes a fine companion to the earlier album. Here, the fellows stretch the songs a bit, offering a nine-minute version of "But Not for Me" and eight-minute take of "C.C. Rider." Also notable are two originals, Ellis' swinging "Orange in Pain" and Brown's bouncy "F.S.R." Both albums have plenty to offer to fans of any of the participants, and Straight Ahead is an apt title for the fine music Alexander, Brown, and Ellis make together.

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