Monty Alexander Concrete Jungle: The Music of Bob Marley

Warning flags might get hoisted when you see this album; you’re probably thinking "not another tribute to the reggae king” or, even worse, "not more jazz interpretations of reggae”. But fear not, painful images of smooth-jazzed Marley songs (remember Grover Washington Jr.’s "Jammin”?) will luckily be dispelled by Monte Alexander’s second Marley tribute album. Alexander was present at the birth of the Jamaican music industry (proto ska) but made his name as a jazz pianist in the States, somewhat in the shadow of Oscar Peterson. What’s notable on this album, though, is that Alexander takes the best of jazz and reggae and melds them together instead of trying to fully refinish these songs in some ill-advised jazz patina. Namely, Alexander keeps the bass and drums heavy and forward in the mix — something he no doubt learned on his album with Sly & Robbie — and then builds his new layers on top: "Babylon System” is recreated largely as an acoustic meditation; Latin rhythmic ideas change the nature of songs like "Forever Lovin’ Jah,” "Simmer Down” and "Chant Down Babylon” into freshly exciting version excursions; and elsewhere a free harmonic license leads to chordal "hot-rodding” on "Crazy Baldheads.” Alexander even employs the Rod Dennis Mento Band to help him turn "Three Little Birds” into a rustic Caribbean folk tune. The only time the record misses the bulls-eye is when the focus is taken off the instrumental music in favour of adding a vocal — on "Concrete Jungle” the two vocalists show more influence from Boyz II Men than Marley, and even though the great Luciano shows up on "War” he’s only given one verse to sing. Criminal. (Telarc)