Listen Up: Wednesday July 23, 2003
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
Monty Alexander Trio

Impressions in Blue (Telarc)

By Michael Pellecchia

In the most recent 50 years, the previous 50 years of jazz and blues have been worked over so intensely it seems almost as though each half century was a century in its own right. Trouble is, you’d be hard pressed to find a demarcation line that would separate the two. As the American songbag emerged from Tin Pan Alley to new life in the jazz improviser’s hands, the myriad revisitations of old tunes and patterns spread from the horn players in the 1940s to the piano artists of the 1950s, from Bud Powell and Oscar Peterson to a legion beyond number. And a new generation of jazz pianists is flowering in New York City as this is written, whose primary influences are more likely to be Thelonious Monk or Cecil Taylor than Art Tatum or Fats Waller.

Monty Alexander’s in the group between, with a birth date of 1944 and an influence that reflects taste, elegance, and scholarship. So he brings us a concept album, Impressions in Blue, meaning in jazz that, in addition to random outside attributions (or musical quotes) within the songs, the songs themselves are carefully selected to present a slice of jazz iconography. Alexander is a connoisseur of trio playing, and this new album is no exception, with Hassan Shakur on bass and Mark Taylor on drums. The album opens with a piano trio playing Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue that quickly turns into a blues vamp before moving on to impressions of Rodrigo’s Aranjuez suite (made famous in Miles Davis and Gil Evans’ Sketches of Spain), and then some Duke Ellington pieces, reinforcing the Duke-ish album title.

The imaginative arrangements of these and some Alexander originals allow for sprightly trio interplay, and the digital sound lets the listener wallow in Alexander’s wonderful tone and the beautifully tuned, miked-and-mixed bass and drums. Guitarist John Pizzarelli makes an appearance in a Nat Cole medley called “King Cole Reflections,” and though it’s a journeyman take on the original Cole trio embellishments of “It’s Only a Paper Moon” and others, the Cole recycling turns the concept into more of a compilation. With blues, gospel, calypso, pop, and jazz all represented in one sparkling piano album, quibbling would be unfair. But everyone has their preferred shades of blue, and mine are a little darker.


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