On the last Record Store Day event of 2020, several fascinating archival jazz releases were issued which I previewed (click here to read that). In that article I promised I would explore the releases there in greater depth, two of which I have done so far (click here for Resonance Records’ Bill Evans Live at Ronnie Scott’s and here for Jazz Dispensary’s Orange Sunset).
A personal aside: I remember a friend at the record store I worked in during college played some of Monty’s albums on Pablo Records and (I think) the MPS label back in the early 1980s. And sometimes I’d hear Monty on our college radio station. At the time, the music struck me as nice in a “classic jazz” sense but it didn’t full engage me. Beyond my studies, my head was full of progressive music of the moment — prog rock to jazz fusion to new wave and punk. When it came to piano based jazz, I was immersing myself in many of the legends like Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum, McCoy Tyner and Dave Brubeck (who were then-still-alive-and-well), Bill Evans (who was then recently departed) and Chick Corea (who I got to meet when he played on campus). I later got into Don Pullen and Randy Weston, among others.
So many pianists, so little time…
Thus, my focus on Monty Alexander sadly (for me) fell by the wayside. For fans reading this, forgive me for not connecting with Monty’s music previously. I’ve been busy all these years doing my jazz homework (if you will).
Fast forward to Record Store Day this past November and we have a quite beautiful previously unreleased, super high quality Monty Alexander recording delivered to the universe from the good folks at Resonance Records called Love You Madly. This August 6th, 1982 concert recorded at Bubba’s Jazz Restaurant in Fort Lauderdale, Florida is quickly opening my ears to the joy’s of Monty’s music. I can now fully appreciate where he fits in and how to listen.
You might notice that I used the word “nice” above to describe his playing and that was not a derogatory remark. Monty’s playing IS nice but its so much more. He is clearly a super accomplished player, straddling many influential styles of the past while finding his own vibe that is… joyous and… well… nice!
But here is the thing I missed in the past: Monty is a fine composer with a writing and performing style that falls somewhere between many of the aforementioned pianists, yet with his own unique twists (more on that in a bit).
Monty clearly had many fans by the early 80s who were deep believers in his playing. In fact, this pristine, high quality recording was made as a gift by a fan who happened to be the founder of the influential and legendary Criteria Recording Studios (Bee Gees, Clapton, Aretha, Allman Bros., etc.), Mack Emerman. Recorded on 24-track analog multitrack tape via Criteria’s mobile recording unit, the recording both captures the vibe of the club and the exhuberant upbeat personality of Alexander’s playing and his spirited band.
The sound quality on Love You Madly is totally audiophile demo worthy, delivering a nice balance of ambient club acoustics and close-microphone precision. If you have ever wanted to listen to jazz piano from “the driver’s seat” in front of the keyboard, Love You Madly will be your jam. Check out this mini documentary that Resonance Records prepared (click here) for a bit more on it.
My copy of Love You Madly is well centered and quiet. The recording is super lush, mastered by Bernie Grundman Mastering and pressed at RTI. This is a lovely album.
And while there are many familiar interpretations of other composers here including Duke Ellington’s “Love You Madly” which titles the album and the classic “Body and Soul,” it is Monty’s own compositions which have caught my ear. It really came together for me on Side Two which opens with the beautiful and haunting ”Sweet Lady” that feels almost like a lost Bill Evans tune. “Eleuthra” mines some Latin grooves but without sacrificing the song for the rhythms. “Consider” is another beautiful melody.
He even pulls off a hybrid mashup blending in Jamaican flavors with improvisation on the humorously titled “Reggae Later” — and don’t discount that because this tune swings madly. This is a good place to take note of Mr. Alexander’s cultural roots as he grew up in Jamaica, so that Caribbean essence is integral to what he does yet it is integrated with a deep respect for the blues and jazz pioneers who came before.
Swing is one of the hallmark’s of Monty’s playing. This guy swings madly.
A two disc set, Love You Madly comes with a 12-page LP sized booklet that is filled with photos and new interviews with Mr. Alexander (conducted by producer Zev Feldman) and even the great pianist Kenny Barron. I’m still working my way though this…
At the start of this review I mentioned that Monty Alexander’s music was something I was not real familiar with prior to this release.
Accordingly, and in the best possible way, the best endorsement I can offer here is that I am inspired by Love You Madly and plan to explore more of his albums now. So thank you Resonance Records for this release and opening up at least one mind to an artist who — dare I say — many of us may have overlooked previously. This one’s a keeper.
My only regret is that its taken me this long to be fully turned on to Monty Alexander’s music. The exciting part is that he has an enormous back catalog to explore. If you, Dear Readers, have any recommendations on where I should begin, let me know below in the comments!).
Better late than never!
Hopefully after the Pandemic is over we’ll get to see Monty on tour.
I, for one, can’t wait.