Music

Monty Alexander: Concrete Jungle: The Music of Bob Marley

Will Layman

The Jamaican jazz pianist takes on Marley, again.


Monty Alexander

Concrete Jungle: The Music of Bob Marley

Label: Telarc
US Release Date: 2006-03-28
UK Release Date: 2006-04-24
iTunes affiliate
Amazon affiliate
Amazon
iTunes

Monty Alexander was born and raised in Kingston, Jamaica, and came to the United States in 1961. In a flash, he had a gig in Vegas, where he was spotted by Jilly Rizzo and was soon accompanying Sinatra, then vibes player Milt Jackson. A jazz pianist of genuine bona fides, Mr. Alexander has also explored his Caribbean roots in numerous releases -- he's known for playing with steel drum masters, for example.

Concrete Jungle is the latest of many reggae/ska projects by Mr. Alexander. Stir It Up, Monty Meets Sly and Robbie, Rocksteady and Goin' Yard all put Mr. Alexander's nimble jazz fingers into a reggae groove as well. It's tempting to hear it all as a somewhat uncomfortable fusion, frankly. But the blend is easy. Mr. Alexander is a fine but mostly mainstream player, the kind of guy who has shape-shifted over the years to fit various projects, but rarely stamped them with his own unique sound. And so, here, the main soloist is Mr. Alexander, but the main personality is Bob Marley.

There are two distinct rhythm sections at work on Concrete Jungle -- Mr. Alexander's jazz trio (with Hassan Shakur on bass and Herlin Riley on drums), and a more traditional reggae group (Glenroy Browne on electric bass, Rolando Alphanso Wilson on drums, Wendel Ferraro's guitar, and Othniel Lewis on keyboards). Regardless of who is playing, the songs' grooves always get around to a reggae feel eventually. So this is not an album of "jazz treatments" of Marley songs. Even on the gently acoustic "Babylon System", featuring acoustic bass and Riley's brushes, the upbeat taste of reggae is the most prominent spice. This is not "Swingin' Bob!" And that can only be a good thing.

A few songs truly do rock steady. "Concrete Jungle" begins with pastoral solo piano, but the groove kicks in strong and the cry "It's a jungle out there!" puts thoughts of jazz to rest. Mr. Alexander solos on melodica (a wind-driven keyboard that sounds a bit like a harmonica), as does Mr. Shakur, but the feel is pure Marley. "War" grooves even harder. The opening duet between vocalist Luciano and Mr. Alexander is as sweet as the album gets, but the rhythm section soon starts a slow burn that echoes the lyrics: "Until the basic human rights are equally guaranteed to all without regard to race, there will be war".

Many of the instrumental tracks cook over a reggae flame as well. "Crazy Baldheads" and "Simmer Down" are features for Mr. Alexander's bluesiest acoustic sound, and also for trombonist Delfeayo Marsalis. "Trench Town" lets the piano have plenty of space to noodle gracefully, offset by very tasty arrangements for a front line of trumpet, saxophone, and trombone, suggesting a kind of détente between Marley, Abdullah Ibrahim, and Art Blakey. "Forever Lovin' Jah" and "Chant Down Babylon" are more straight piano features that feel natural and easy, sure, but maybe a tad too "reggae lite" in the way Mr. Alexander colors up the arrangements with fancy licks, jazz harmonies, and cute left-hand countermelodies.

The subtitle of this disc is "The Tuff Gong Sessions" because the disc was recorded in the legendary studio where Bob Marley and the Wailers made their classic recordings. It so happens that this studio was also the first one that Mr. Alexander recorded in, back around 1958, before reggae had exploded on the world. Mr. Alexander's fascinating liner notes point out that Jamaica was another of those unique nodes or mixing spots for American music -- a place where African, European, and other traditions mixed and remixed into something great and unique. This record reaches for some of that blending and gets a long way there. It ends with a Jamaican folk reading of "Three Little Birds" ("Every little thing / Is gonna be alright"), then a tune of Mr. Alexander's for solo piano -- another gentle folk song that seems to lament a great man's passing.

Fans of Bob Marley may find this rendering of the great man's music somewhat bleached out with "jazz styling", but as a vehicle for one Jamaican to find common ground with his brother, it suggests classic Marley virtues: unity and One Love.

7
Music
Music

All Kinds of Time: Adam Schlesinger's Pursuit of Pure, Peerless Pop

Adam Schlesinger was a poet laureate of pure pop music. There was never a melody too bright, a lyrical conceit too playfully dumb, or a vibe full of radiation that he would shy away from. His sudden passing from COVID-19 means one of the brightest stars in the power-pop universe has suddenly dimmed.

Music

Folkie Eliza Gilkyson Turns Up the Heat on '2020'

Eliza Gilkyson aims to inspire the troops of resistance on her superb new album, 2020. The ten songs serve as a rallying cry for the long haul.

Music

Billy Corgan Brainwashed Me: '90s Alternative Rock and the Introspective Abyss

Once in its thrall, these days I find the overriding message of '90s alt-rock especially naïve and even dangerous.

Music

Human Impact Hit Home with a Seismic First Album From a Veteran Lineup

On their self-titled debut, Human Impact provide a soundtrack for this dislocated moment where both humanity and nature are crying out for relief.

Music

PopMatters Seeks Music Critics and Essayists

If you're a smart, historically-minded music critic or essayist, let your voice be heard by the quality readership of PopMatters.

Music

Monophonics Are an Ardent Blast of True Rock 'n' Soul on 'It's Only Us'

The third time's the charm as Bay Area soul sextet Monophonics release their shiniest record yet in It's Only Us.

Music

Bobby Previte / Jamie Saft / Nels Cline: Music from the Early 21st Century

A power-trio of electric guitar, keyboards, and drums takes on the challenge of free improvisation—but using primarily elements of rock and electronica as strongly as the usual creative music or jazz. The result is focused.

Music

JARV IS... - "House Music All Night Long" (Singles Going Steady)

"House Music All Night Long" is a song our inner, self-isolated freaks can jive to. JARV IS... cleverly captures how dazed and confused some of us may feel over the current pandemic, trapped in our homes.

Books
Books

Does Inclusivity Mean That Everyone Does the Same Thing?

What is the meaning of diversity in today's world? Russell Jacoby raises and addresses some pertinent questions in his latest work, On Diversity.

Books

Phuc Tran's Existential Trip of a Memoir, 'Sigh, Gone'

Phuc Tran's smart, tough memoir, Sigh, Gone, might launch a broken down kid to read 150 great books—for free, at the local library.

Books

Classic Shōjo Today: Moto Hagio's 'The Poe Clan'

Moto Hagio's The Poe Clan manga series a gender-fluid melodrama marked by deep psychological trauma.

Books

John Pham's ​J​&K​​ - It's a Matter of Perspective

In J&K, John Pham explores perspectives in the psychological sense. Like Picasso, he views things from more than one angle.

Film
Film

'Slay the Dragon' Is a Road Map of the GOP's Methods for Dividing and Conquering American Democracy

If a time traveler from the past wanted to learn how to subvert democracy for a few million bucks, gerrymandering documentary Slay the Dragon would be a superb guide.

Film

The Road to Murder in Love and War: Three Films from Claude Chabrol

The character's in Claude Chabrol's The Third Lover, Line of Demarcation, and The Champagne Murders are obsessively doubled and mirrored, reflecting and refracting their hunger for sex, love, money, and power.

Film

'Memento' Is the Movie of the Attention Economy

We are afraid of time, and so like Leonard in Memento, we kill it, compulsively and indiscriminately.

Film

What Lurks Beneath: 'Jaws' and Political Leadership in the Time of COVID-19

Boris Johnson admires the Mayor in Spielberg's Jaws. Remember him? He was the guy who wouldn't close the beaches -- and sacrifice that revenue source -- during a public crisis.

Recent
Music

JARV IS... - "House Music All Night Long" (Singles Going Steady)

"House Music All Night Long" is a song our inner, self-isolated freaks can jive to. JARV IS... cleverly captures how dazed and confused some of us may feel over the current pandemic, trapped in our homes.

Music

All Kinds of Time: Adam Schlesinger's Pursuit of Pure, Peerless Pop

Adam Schlesinger was a poet laureate of pure pop music. There was never a melody too bright, a lyrical conceit too playfully dumb, or a vibe full of radiation that he would shy away from. His sudden passing from COVID-19 means one of the brightest stars in the power-pop universe has suddenly dimmed.

Music

Folkie Eliza Gilkyson Turns Up the Heat on '2020'

Eliza Gilkyson aims to inspire the troops of resistance on her superb new album, 2020. The ten songs serve as a rallying cry for the long haul.

Music

Human Impact Hit Home with a Seismic First Album From a Veteran Lineup

On their self-titled debut, Human Impact provide a soundtrack for this dislocated moment where both humanity and nature are crying out for relief.

Music

Monophonics Are an Ardent Blast of True Rock 'n' Soul on 'It's Only Us'

The third time's the charm as Bay Area soul sextet Monophonics release their shiniest record yet in It's Only Us.

Film

'Slay the Dragon' Is a Road Map of the GOP's Methods for Dividing and Conquering American Democracy

If a time traveler from the past wanted to learn how to subvert democracy for a few million bucks, gerrymandering documentary Slay the Dragon would be a superb guide.

Music

Bobby Previte / Jamie Saft / Nels Cline: Music from the Early 21st Century

A power-trio of electric guitar, keyboards, and drums takes on the challenge of free improvisation—but using primarily elements of rock and electronica as strongly as the usual creative music or jazz. The result is focused.

Books

Does Inclusivity Mean That Everyone Does the Same Thing?

What is the meaning of diversity in today's world? Russell Jacoby raises and addresses some pertinent questions in his latest work, On Diversity.

Music

The Killers - "Caution" (Singles Going Steady)

The Killers go for the big hooks and singable anthems on "Caution", but opinion is sharply divided about the song's merits amongst our Singles Going Steady panel.

Music

Lilly Hiatt - "Some Kind of Drug" (Singles Going Steady)

Lilly Hiatt sings about a different kind of love on "Some Kind of Drug". Hers is for a city and the impact gentrification has had its soul.

Music

There's Never Enough Time for Folk Music's James Elkington

The sometimes Wilco and Richard Thompson sideman, in-demand producer, and songwriter, James Elkington, muses on why it's taking longer than he expects to achieve more in a week than most of us get done in a lifetime.

Music

Billy Corgan Brainwashed Me: '90s Alternative Rock and the Introspective Abyss

Once in its thrall, these days I find the overriding message of '90s alt-rock especially naïve and even dangerous.

Books

Classic Shōjo Today: Moto Hagio's 'The Poe Clan'

Moto Hagio's The Poe Clan manga series a gender-fluid melodrama marked by deep psychological trauma.

Music

Salsa Band LPT Hints at the Genre's Future

LPT's debut album, Sin Parar, hits all the right notes for a contemporary salsa album.

Music

Jennah Barry Offers Up a Warm, Sublime Collection of Memorable Tunes on 'Holiday'

Canadian indie folkster Jennah Barry returns with her long-awaited sophomore album, Holiday, which takes on a looser, more relaxed approach.

Music

Fotocrime's '80s-Inspired Rock Is Often Half-Baked

Fotocrime's South of Heaven is interesting mostly in that it's one of the most mediocre rock records I've heard in a long time.

Music

Maria McKee Puts Down Her Electric Guitar and Picks up Dante on 'La Vita Nuova'

"Show Me Heaven" was another country. Maria McKee has moved to England, immersed herself in the Classics and turned away from the 21st century.

Books

Phuc Tran's Existential Trip of a Memoir, 'Sigh, Gone'

Phuc Tran's smart, tough memoir, Sigh, Gone, might launch a broken down kid to read 150 great books—for free, at the local library.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews
Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.