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  • JoeWhip
    JoeWhip

    Monty Alexander Favorites

    I have been a jazz fan essentially since birth. My dad was a musician and band leader who played jazz at home, so while others my age were listening to The Stones or eagerly anticipating the next Led Zeppelin album, I was listening to the likes of Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Nat Cole, Oscar Peterson and Mel Torme. Yeah, I know, I was the kid in school with the weird taste in music. It was not until I was in college that I was exposed to the genius of Monty Alexander, who in my humble opinion, is one of the finest jazz pianists of all time. I am somewhat amazed that when chatting with friends and even fellow audiophiles who enjoy jazz, how many of them have never heard of Monty or if they have, have only a vague notion of who he is. I thought a piece here at the recently rebranded Audiophile Style, would be a good opportunity to introduce this artist to a wider audience. The purpose of this piece is not to discuss his entire catalogue but to provide a short list of my favorites, that showcase why I find him to be one of the jazz greats.

     

    Monty Alexander was born in Jamaica and arrived in the US at the age of 17. He was discovered by Frank Sinatra at his club, Jilly’s, and the rest, as they say, is history. Monty’s music can basically be described as straight ahead jazz with a mix of soul, bop and reggae. The influence of his place of birth is unmistakeable and what makes him unique as a jazz pianist. His music is simply infectious. He can take a sappy tune like Feelings, and turn it into a classic. Well, maybe a near classic.  I love how he is able to weave other songs and melodies into his runs. He is inventive, creative and above all else, fun. This is not stodgy Jazz. 

     

    His discography is well over 60 releases. You will undoubtedly note that quite a few of my recommendations are live vs. studio recordings. The reason for this is that Monty is truly best experienced live. It has been my great privilege to see him perform quite often at various jazz clubs in New York. Each occasion can best be described as a joyful experience. No matter your state of mind when arriving for the show, you will leave a happy camper. Now on to my list of favorite recordings.

     

     

    1. Montreux Alexander- Live at The Montreux Jazz Festival. 

     

    This album was my introduction to Monty’s music. My college radio station was selling off a ton of jazz LPs and I think this one cost me all of 10 cents. Best 10 cents I ever spent. The album features what I consider to be his best trio with Jeff Hamilton on drums and John Clayton on bass. This trio still performs together occasionally. If they happen to be in your town, see them. You won’t regret it. This album features a stompin’ version of The Battle Hymn of the Republic. If it does’t get you moving, you don’t have a pulse.  I have this recording on LP, CD and a fresh high res transfer of the master tape by MPS Records. All are great sounding although I find the most recent transfer from MPS in Germany to be the best. It is available on HD Tracks, Qobuz and Highresaudio.

     

     

    q@2x.png  Listen via Qobuz Montreux Alexander - The Monty Alexander Trio Live at the Montreux Festival (96 Khz)

     

    T.png Listen via Tidal Montreux Alexander - The Monty Alexander Trio Live at the Montreux Festival

     

    H.png Purchase via HDtracks Montreux Alexander - The Monty Alexander Trio Live at the Montreux Festival (24/192)

     

     

     

    2.  Overseas Special

     

    This is another live recording, this time in Tokyo at the Satin Doll jazz club in 1982. It features the great Ray Brown on bass and Herb Ellis on guitar. This trio made several recordings on the Concord label but none are as good as this live recording. While it is clearly a Monty Alexander event, the trio share the time equally, with all three featuring on each tune. It is truly a group effort. My favorite track is that old jazz chestnut, C.C. Rider, with a driving bass solo by Ray Brown on the album’s last cut. This is one very dynamic recording.

     

    Not available for streaming anywhere. Here is a link for more information about the album - LINK

     

     

     

    3. Uplift.

     

    Uplift was released in 2011 on the JPL label and features recordings from Monty’s private collection. The tracks are from various venues from large halls to small clubs and feature his normal touring trio of Hassan Shakur on bass and Herlin Riley on drums. The album is aptly named. My highlights are the opening track, Come Fly With Me, the Monty original Renewal, Django and the finale, Fungi Mama.

     

    q@2x.png  Unavailable from Qobuz (at least in the US)

     

    T.png Listen via Tidal Uplift

     

    Y.jpg Listen via YouTube Uplift

     

     

     

    4. Road Dog 

     

    This is another all live recording and I believe is still only available for purchase at one of Monty’s live gigs. Like Uplift, it consists of private recordings. It includes only original compositions and features the trio, his larger ensemble, The Harlem River Express, as well as solo piano. 

     

    Unavailable for streaming.

     

     

     

    5. Live at the Iridium.

     

    This is a recording from Telarc Jazz from 2005. The sound is excellent although a bit more distant from the ones noted above which put you in the front row. The album features the trio with Hassan Shakur on bass with Mark Taylor on drums and Robert Thomas, Jr. on congas. My favs are the opener, the Nat Adderley Classic, The Work Song, which is a staple of his current shows as well as Little Darlin’.

     

     

    Y.jpg Listen via YouTube to the track Runnin' Away

     

     

     

     

    6. The Duke Ellington Songbook.

     

    This is a recording from 1983 from the MPS label and features Monty on piano and John Clayton on bass. This release features excellent playing as well as sonics. A real feast for the ears.

     

     

    q@2x.png  Listen via Qobuz The Duke Ellington Song Book (24/88.2)

     

    T.png Listen via Tidal The Duke Ellington Song Book

     

    Y.jpg Listen via YouTube The Duke Ellington Song Book

     

     

     

    7. Trio.

     

    For my money, this is the best of the studio sessions with Herb Ellis and Ray Brown on Concord. On the solos, Monty and his piano sounds like it is right in the room with you. Great stuff.

     

    Not available for streaming anywhere. Here is a link for more information about the album - LINK

     

     

     

    8. Facets.

     

    Released in 1979 by Concord, this recording features Ray Brown and Jeff Hamilton. What could go wrong? Nothing. 

     

    Not available for streaming anywhere. Here is a link for more information about the album - LINK

     

     

     

    9. In Tokyo

     

    Released in 1979 on Original Jazz Classics, this set features Andy Simpkins on bass and Frank Gant on drums. The set features many of the tracks that have become staples of the live performances of Monty’s various trios. Straight ahead jazz and bop at its best.

     

     

    q@2x.png  Listen via Qobuz In Tokyo

     

    T.png Listen via Tidal In Tokyo

     

     

     

     

    10. Ray Brown, Monty Alexander, Russell Malone 

     

    Technically, this is a Ray Brown date on Telarc and was Ray’s last recording date before his death in 2002. This set is a bit on the smooth side and is great for late night listening with the lights down low.

     

    Not available for streaming anywhere. Here is a link for more information about the album - LINK

     

     

     

    While this list just scratches the surface of what is a rather extensive discography, it features some stellar performances of one of jazz’s greatest pianists. Give a few a spin.  I hope you enjoy! Happy listening. 

     

    Joe



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    I found Monty Alexander by way of his concert at the 1994 Montreux Jazz Festival, featuring Barbara Hendricks on vocals.  I have this on CD, SVCD (anyone remember Super Video CD? lol), and DVD.

     

    948039169_BHMontya.thumb.jpg.126a393cbd9922af2a73f13751729034.jpg

    1619157259_BHMontyb.thumb.jpg.b2c7fc8560db911fca73bb7cad638222.jpg

    565788276_BHMontycda.thumb.jpg.64f7b5603afae6c2a48b5d80a68df112.jpg

    1901754414_BHMontycdb.thumb.jpg.e0aee762725511c497402f7b5f33965d.jpg

     

    Here's the album on Qobuz:

    https://open.qobuz.com/album/0724355534651

     

     

    Oddly, youtube put it under the auto-generated Neville Marriner-Topic lmao!

     

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    Thanks Joe. 😊

     

    The only one I have heard of your 10 favorites, is a single track from "Ray Brown, Monty Alexander & Russell Malone" called Django from Telarc SACD Sampler No. 3. It is fine I just didn't like it enough to purchase the entire SACD. I use samplers to help in making purchase decisions of audiophile recordings.

     

     I have three Monty Alexander SACDs not listed in your post.

     

    • Monty Alexander - My America Telarc SACD-63552
    • Monty Alexander - Stir It Up: The Music of Bob Marley Telarc SACD-63469
    • Monty Alexander; Ernest Ranglin - Rocksteady Telarc SACD-63581

     

    I enjoy all three of them and I was curious if you have heard them. They don't appear to be available as hi-res downloads in either PCM or DSD.

     

    Also I would have loved to check out the links to the albums you provided, however when I signed my last lease with my apartment complex they changed the conditions of the free internet they provide, we are no longer allowed to stream music or video and no longer allowed large downloads. So far they have not said anything about the 30 second samples I listen to decide if I want a new disc offered for sale. Later today I will give a listen to 30 second samples of the albums you recommend. Thanks again. 😊

     

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    Hi Teresa.i have the first two recordings you mentioned and enjoy them. I have about 25 of Monty’s recordings so it was not easy picking just 10. I enjoy the live recordings the best as he is just so good live. The energy level is just higher than the studio sessions. I do not have the Ranglin recording but do have the Ernest Ranglin Order of Distinction recording that features Monty on piano. That is from AIX records. I have the Blu-Ray which has a stereo flac 24/96 version of the album which can be extracted. That is a fun recording and is great in 5.1. I will look to grab the recording you mentioned. I will look for it on Amazon. Thanks.

     

     

     

     

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    Thanks for the article. I thought that I remembered having some of his work on LP's on Norman Granz's Pablo label.

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    If you love jazz piano and haven't done some deep dives into Monty's work, I have an idea for you for a full weekend... He does enough different styles of music that you COULD listen all weekend.

     

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    14 minutes ago, ednaz said:

    If you love jazz piano and haven't done some deep dives into Monty's work, I have an idea for you for a full weekend... He does enough different styles of music that you COULD listen all weekend.

     

    I had a lot of fun this weekend discovering Monty!!!

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    You are so right, Nite Mist Blues.....so in love with this piece of fine acoustical art and then ‘...Feeelings...’ so hard to choose 

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    I know Monty Alexander since the 80s. One of my first Jeton Direct-to-Disc LPs was Monty Alexander Solo:

     

    1755077189_MontyAlexander-Solo.jpeg.c0492fedd9e39520cdbd6de7d7c2dd53.jpeg

     

    Now I'm listening this wonderful music on CD ...

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    1 hour ago, TomWoB said:

    I know Monty Alexander since the 80s. One of my first Jeton Direct-to-Disc LPs was Monty Alexander Solo:

     

    1755077189_MontyAlexander-Solo.jpeg.c0492fedd9e39520cdbd6de7d7c2dd53.jpeg

     

    Now I'm listening this wonderful music on CD ...

     

    Thank you for this suggestion!

    I’ve found it on Qobuz (16/44 format) and the sound, not to mention the playing, is phenomenal.

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    Great article!

     

    It doesn't come up a lot, but an underrated (and great sounding) Alexander album is 1974's Perception. 

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    @spin33

    Technical detail of the "Solo" LP: the "Direct-To-Disc" recording process, which means Monty has to play the two sides of the LP nonstop, without any break. Two "long takes" with 5 songs each (like "live") 😵

     

    What makes this LP special for me is "this small error" at the end of Cavatina (my favorite song) ... try to find it 😉

     

    I have two more Jeton CDs with Monty Alexander:

    • Summerwind
    • Summerwind Vol. II

    Both with Ray Brown, Johnny Griffin and Martin Drew. Maybe Qobuz has these CDs in the catalogue too (?)

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    6 hours ago, TomWoB said:

    @spin33

    Technical detail of the "Solo" LP: the "Direct-To-Disc" recording process, which means Monty has to play the two sides of the LP nonstop, without any break. Two "long takes" with 5 songs each (like "live") 😵

     

    What makes this LP special for me is "this small error" at the end of Cavatina (my favorite song) ... try to find it 😉

     

    I have two more Jeton CDs with Monty Alexander:

    • Summerwind
    • Summerwind Vol. II

    Both with Ray Brown, Johnny Griffin and Martin Drew. Maybe Qobuz has these CDs in the catalogue too (?)

     

    Yes, Direct-To-Disc method will generally produce special results. I've several vinyl LPs recorded in that manner, all very natural in presentation (even the small errors, as at the 4:45 mark of Cavatina ;-).

     

    Was unfamiliar with Jeton until the introduction to 'Monty Solo', so thank you for that. Qobuz US has the 'Summerwind' album  (another excellent suggestion!) but it's on the Bell Records label, not Jeton. Unfortunately, no Vol. II at all.

     

    But as the Jeton label has intrigued me, I did a search on Qobuz for other releases and found several. I haven't listened yet but they all look interesting and are now saved into my Roon library.

     

     

    fullsizeoutput_4004.jpeg

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    15 hours ago, TomWoB said:

    @spin33

    Technical detail of the "Solo" LP: the "Direct-To-Disc" recording process, which means Monty has to play the two sides of the LP nonstop, without any break. Two "long takes" with 5 songs each (like "live") 😵

     

    What makes this LP special for me is "this small error" at the end of Cavatina (my favorite song) ... try to find it 😉

     

    I have two more Jeton CDs with Monty Alexander:

    • Summerwind
    • Summerwind Vol. II

    Both with Ray Brown, Johnny Griffin and Martin Drew. Maybe Qobuz has these CDs in the catalogue too (?)

    I found Summerwind on Qobuz and Tidal, but Vol. II is only on Tidal.

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    i was able to download Solo from my Qobuz UK account, very nice indeed. The European Qobuz site had Summerwind II which I downloaded but not I. I also found Soul Fusion with Milt Jackson, Monty Alexander, Jeff Hamilton and John Clayton which I am really enjoying as I write this. Thanks to all.

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