By Brian Morton | Published November 2019
Monty Alexander has been known to adapt Bob Marley tunes, and to use island rhythms in his otherwise swing-to-bop based music. At 75, he’s still in sparkling form on Wareika Hill (Rastamonk Vibrations), his left hand rhythmically springy, alternating bluebeat phrases with reggae and blues meters. But Alexander has shown interest in Thelonious Monk for years, often including sly references to the better known lines in his solos. Temperamentally, though, the two men seem light-years apart: Monk all inwardness and anguish, and Alexander all affability and sun. But there are deeper connections.
A young Alexander used to watch rastas climb Wareika Hill in Kingston, heading off to worship and moving to the sound of a drum. Later, Alexander makes the churchy connection complete with an astonishingly simple version of “Abide With Me,” accompanied by a somber drumbeat. The theoretical underpinning to these Rastamonk Vibrations is that Monk worked and lived in a community replete with artists of Caribbean descent—not that Wareika Hill needs the scaffolding. The guests here aren’t just for show and name-droppery, either. Joe Lovano’s spot on “Green Chimneys” is crackerjack. But it’s Wayne Escoffery who wins over ears with his gloriously full-bodied sound and fearless phrasing. And Leon Duncan’s electric bass has just enough of Aston “Family Man” Barrett to keep Wailers fan happy. Great stuff from Alexander and maybe a career high: “Brilliant Corners” is, anyway.
Wareika Hill (Rastamonk Vibrations): Wareika; Misterioso; Nutty; Bye-Ya; San Francisco Holiday; Rhythm-A-Ning; Brilliant Corners; Well You Needn’t; Bemsha Swing; Green Chimneys; Monk’s Dream; Abide With Me; Well You Needn’t (Live); Wareika Goodbye. (70:59)
Personnel: Monty Alexander, piano; Wayne Escoffery, Ron Blake (4, 5), Joe Lovano (10), tenor saxophone; Andrae Murchison, trombone; Earl Appleton, keyboards; Andy Bassford, John Scofield (4, 7), guitar; J.J. Shakur, bass; Leon Duncan, Courtney Panton (10), electric bass; Jason Brown, Obed Calvaire, drums; Karl Wright, drums, percussion; Junior Wedderburn, Abashani Wedderburn, Bongo Billy, Nyabinghi drums.