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Monty Alexander

Concrete Jungle -- The Music of Bob Marley (Telarc)

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It might seem a tad irreconcilable, a mainstream jazz pianist at the helm of a tribute to the most renowned singer-songwriter in reggae history, but don't skip to the next review yet. Pianist Monty Alexander -- whose style mingles Oscar Peterson's sophistication with Horace Silver's earthiness -- was born in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1944, and like some island horn players (including saxophonist Dean Fraser, playing here) enjoys a parallel career playing jazz. Alexander's spare, genial, sometimes wistful, and briskly lyrical style is an ideal pairing with Bob Marley's plaintive and righteously exultant melodies.

The disc's well-balanced arrangements sustain the essence of the originals (including reggae rhythms) while opening them up for improvised personal statements. Marsalis progeny Delfeayo contributes some funky, bristling Trench Town trombone. Over 12 tracks in 60-some minutes, the soloing on Jungle is concise and heartfelt, with no meandering or vamping. There are a few harmonious vocals here and there (including those of Luciano), but Concrete Jungle is a chiefly instrumental gem, where mellow groove and assertive spirit not only coexist, but bolster each other.

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