Monty Alexander

Yard Movement

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Jamaican-born Monty Alexander's Oscar Peterson-styled piano runs would seem an unlikely fit for reggae rhythms, but with albums like Yard Movement (the album that launched the Island Jazz imprint), Alexander (along with guitarist Ernest Ranglin, who is featured here) has played in huge role in defining what has to be called (for lack of a better term) "jazz reggae." Essentially smooth bop laid in over heavy reggae basslines, the tracks on Yard Movement (recorded live at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland in 1995) work surprisingly well, grooving and shifting directions with a deceptive ease, and Ranglin's bright, bubbly guitar is a continual delight throughout. The opener is the grandstand track here, a 12-minute-plus version of the Exodus movie theme that gradually transforms into a magnificent run-through of Bob Marley's "Exodus." It may have been a mistake to lead the set with this one, though, since everything that follows seems to be a diminishment in comparison to it, which is a shame, because cuts like "Moonlight City," "Strawberry Hill," and "Sneaky Steppers" have their own charm. Fans of hardcore roots reggae may find what Alexander and Ranglin are doing here a little too refined and smooth, but from a jazz perspective, these cuts exhibit an edgy punch that points toward a refreshing synthesis. Both Alexander and Ranglin would go on to make more albums in this vein, but Yard Movement, particularly in the "Exodus" improvisation, created both a template and a benchmark.

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