Review: Monty Alexander’s Express Rolls Again!

On Sunday March 4, 2012 Monty Alexander culminated his sold out two week performance at New York’s famed Blue Note Jazz Club in the west Village.

Billed as a dual celebration of Monty’s 50 years in music and Jamaica’s 50th year of independence, the final night of the second week of his NY tour dubbed the “Harlem-Kingston Express” so named after one of Alexander’s most recently nominated Grammy album in the best Reggae Album category produced a stellar line up of special guests which included Dean Fraser, Tarrus Riley and Diana King.

Bathed in soft blue lighting, the Blue Note stage welcomed and embraced the humble somewhat shy Monty Alexander as he took his diverse audience on a roller coaster ride from Kingston to Manhattan with a stop in New Orleans in between.

Encompassing excellent music, chat and nostalgia, Alexander delivers a spellbinding set, using his famous melodica to create a harmonious stewpot of sound that segue-ways from the classical to a hard-hitting dub-style drum and base to Jazz in its purest form and then back to a rhythmic Dennis Brown classical “Baby Don’t do it”.

Monty Alexander, awarded the title Commander of Distinction in 2000 for his work as a Jamaican music Ambassador – always represents his island home, the Jamaican flag is proudly draped across the baby grand piano on which he thumps out his own brand of music and you can tell he is a proud son of the land of his birth, from the Jamaican pocket piece to his choice of ‘friends’ to celebrate this night.

Monty is a master at melding pop, jazz and reggae and coming up with his own wall of sound. Dean Fraser adds to a magical evening with his hauntingly beautiful rendition of Redemption Song, the interplay between Fraser and Alexander the call and response between saxophone and piano certainly pulls at the heartstrings and leaves the audience collectively holding their breath, not wanting to miss a beat!

Tarrus Riley is added to the mix and comes with his conscious vocals and clear voice, a wonderful accompaniment to his mentor and musical director Dean Fraser who proudly beams as the crowd roars its appreciation at Riley’s deliverance of his most popular tribute to the ladies “She’s Royal”.  Riley performs a short set and makes way for the last guest of the night the incomparable Diana King.  Singing a duet together and exchanging playful banter on stage, Tarrus then exits leaving Diana King to show why she’s remained a powerful force over the past thirty years.  Singing barefoot – a-la Sandy Shaw, she belts out song after song, engaging the audience and entreating them to sing along with her Shy Guy.  Looking fit and healthy, she certainly delivers the goods.

Kudos to the Blue Note for bringing back Monty Alexander for this wonderfully successful run I cannot conclude this review without giving major props to the musicians who constitute the engine behind the Harlem Kingston Express, Joshua Thomas, the extremely facially expressive bass player, Earl Appleton on Keyboards, Robert Brownie of the famous Brownie dynasty on rhythm guitar, Courtney Panton, New Kingston patriarch on congos and Desmond Jones on drums.  When musicians so clearly enjoy what they are doing – it is infectious and the audience just wants to join the party.  Well done.