Monty Alexander – Here Comes the Sun – MPS/Edel 

Alexander takes listeners from Uruguay to England and other places, with touches of pop, calypso and lots of jazz.

Monty Alexander – Here Comes the Sun [TrackList follows] – MPS/Edel 0212406MSW, 40:14 [11/17/17] ****:

(Monty Alexander – piano; Eugene Wright – bass; Duffy Jackson – drums; Montego Joe – conga drums)

By 1971 Jamaican-born pianist Monty Alexander had half a dozen releases under his belt. That year Alexander began a fruitful relationship with MPS, the German jazz record company. His first MPS album was the 40-minute, seven-track Here Comes the Sun. In late 2017 it was reissued on CD and on 180-gram vinyl LP. This review refers to the compact disc digipak version. The reissue features high-quality analog remastering; a new foreword; and Down Beat then-editor Dan Morgenstern’s original liner notes. All notes are printed in German and English.

Alexander had a top-notch quartet for this project. Bassist Eugene Wright (best remembered for his tenure in Dave Brubeck’s band) had been with Alexander for two years. Eighteen-year-old Duffy Jackson fills the drum kit (he subsequently backed Ray Brown, Herb Ellis, Lena Horne, Milt Jackson and more). Roger “Montego Joe” Sanders (conga drums) completes the line-up. Alexander put together an interesting musical program. There are jazz standards (Miles Davis’ “So What” and Gershwin’s “Love Walked In”). There are pop and Broadway hits (the Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun” and “Where Is Love?” from the successful musical Oliver!). There is a traditional folk tune. And Alexander provides one of his own compositions.

Alexander supplies a Latin jazz seasoning on the opener, Richard Evans’ bubbly “Montevideo,” titled after the Uruguay capital city. “Montevideo” has a percussive Latin two-beat élan. Alexander’s piano is virtuosic and his solos are replete with musical quotes from various sources. Alexander arranges George Harrison’s “Here Comes the Sun” in a similar way. He and the group translate the well-known song into something different from the norm, laced with blues feeling and peppered with a Latin-tinted cadence. During his improvisational moments on “Here Comes the Sun,” Alexander cites several early influences including Fats Waller, one of Alexander’s avowed heroes. Alexander shows his Caribbean roots with a congenial calypso reworking of the traditional “Brown Skin Girl.” The quartet seems to have some fun with “Brown Skin Girl.” Alexander has some witty repartee on the keyboard, and Jackson throws out some vocal exclamations near the end which adds to the exuberance.

“Where Is Love?” has a lissome, slightly melancholy attractiveness. Jackson layers a percussive tier via his smooth cymbals and brushes. Wright contributes slow, single bass notes. “Where Is Love?” has a searching sonority which suggests two opposite sides of romance: happiness and sadness. Alexander’s solo piano track, “This Dream Is Mine,” shares a comparable connotation. “This Dream Is Mine” is sensitive, reflective and a delight. The group presents straightforward and swinging jazz on an enthusiastic “Love Walked In,” highlighted by Jackson’s first-rate drumming and Alexander’s superb piano runs. The ensemble concludes with a nearly 11-minute interpretation of “So What.” Alexander maintains the iconic theme but changes the arrangement to include a Latin-swaying rhythm. “So What” is the highpoint and a superlative closer, with lots of solo room for everyone. Wright’s bass improv has an unusual, distorted characteristic. Jackson furnishes a rock-tinged solo. Montego Joe creates a consummate conga experience. The new remastering brings out much sonic detail and delivers a deeper bottom end for bass, drums, percussion and Alexander’s lower piano notes.

Where Is Love?
Here Comes the Sun
Love Walked In
Brown Skin Girl
This Dream Is Mine
So What

—Doug Simpson

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