Rifftides Washington, DC, correspondent John Birchard went to the city’s leading jazz club to catch a veteran pianist. Here is his review.
Jamaican pianist Monty Alexander has arrived at Washington, DC’s Blues Alley for a four-night stand. If the US is looking for a source of renewable energy, we need seek no further than the bandstand in that venerable Georgetown jazz joint.
Gesturing to the wall behind
the piano, Alexander told the opening night audience that he was happy to return to Blues Alley. “I’m personally familiar with all these bricks,” he said. The gray-haired pianist is backed by bassist Hassan J.J. Shakur and drummer Herlin Riley. The trio swung the Frank Sinatra vehicle “Come Fly With Me” with extraordinary vigor, setting the tone for the first of two sets. Before the cheers could die down, the pianist was already laying out the rhythm for one of the calypsos inspired by his West Indies background. It turned out to be “Mama, Look-a Boo Boo.”
One of the most attractive items in Alexander’s eclectic repertoire is the Johnny Mandel-Paul Williams ballad “Close Enough for Love.” For the most part, he treated the song gently, but couldn’t resist sliding into medium four-four time for a few choruses before returning to ballad tempo. That’s the thing about Monty Alexander — the guy seems to have inexhaustible energy and he is prone to turning every tune into a tour de force. If James Brown was the hardest working man in show business, ol’ Monty is not far behind. In Riley and Shakur, he has a pair of kindred souls who exude joy in the romping, stomping style of their leader. Alexander is a crowd pleaser in the best sense of the term. A look around the club during his performance revealed no furrowed brow or look of glazed-eye boredom. The folks in attendance were having a good time, swept up in the music and getting their (considerable) money’s worth.
The Monty Alexander Trio appears at Blues Alley in two sets per evening through Sunday. (Oct 5)