By Natalya Jones
By County Grind
By Liz Tracy
By Chris Joseph
By Liz Tracy
By Matt Preira
By Jesse Scheckner
By Michael E. Miller
For those jazz fans familiar with Monty Alexander but vague on just who Bob Marley is and for those reggae fans who worship Marley but have no idea who Monty Alexander is, this is the ideal disc for cross-cultural introductions.
Alexander is a world-class jazz pianist and one of the only Jamaicans to achieve international renown, having recorded with bassist Ray Brown and vibist Milt Jackson, as well as leading his own trios for years. His journey began as a kid of 15 years, playing piano in the recording studios of Kingston. At the same time, Bob Marley was beginning a career that would see him become the Third World's first musical superstar. As a studio musician in the late '50s, Monty Alexander knew Marley's name before anyone outside of Jamaica did, though the two never met. (Had Marley not died of cancer, he would be 55 this year, the same age as Alexander.)
On Stir It Up, Alexander has taken Marley's simple but infectious reggae melodies, stripped away the anthemic lyrics, and approached them as vehicles for jazz improvisation. He has done this without offending either style. Like a translator he becomes the bridge between two musical idioms.
Alexander, who mans the piano throughout, has assembled a topnotch band. Steve Turre contributes the mellow tones of his trombone and haunting, almost human cry of his conch shells to "Running Away" and the familiar "I Shot the Sheriff." The authentic Jamaican reggae sound is assured on every track by the interplay of Dwight Dawes' keyboards, set to sound like a Hammond B3 Organ, and the rock-steady beat of Sly Dunbar, Rolando Wilson, and Desmond Jones on drums and percussion. Add to this mix the characteristic choppy rhythm guitar accents of Robert Angus and Derek DiCenzo. Alexander's version of "Jammin'" has the feel of an old bus rolling downhill on worn shocks -- that is, until it segues into the swinging glide of Alexander's jazzier stylings. "Could You Be Loved" opens with the rumble of bass and drums, along with organ, a backdrop against which Alexander's light-fingered entry states the melody.
In short you have the best of both worlds here, the warm roots sound of Jamaica's brightest son, Bob Marley, and the cool moonlight sophistication of Jamaica's gift to the world of modern jazz, Monty Alexander. Enjoy the blend. -- Michael Mattox
Break to the Dance -- Volume 2
(Genuine Zone Records)
Classical composers have been using the technique to shake up listeners since the 14th Century, but syncopation in electronic dance music is a relatively new device, the prime province of breakbeat DJs and producers. By accenting weak beats, quickly shifting tempo, or leaving out a key beat per measure, purveyors of breakbeats keep dance crowds on their toes, and no one does it more proficiently than Orlando-based DJ Icey.
Legendary in club circles for his DJ sets at the now-defunct Orlando club the Edge -- in 1993 he talked the club's owners into booking a then-unknown electronica outfit known as the Chemical Brothers for their first U.S. gig -- Icey now spends weekends jetting around the country to spin his original dance mixes. During the week he lays down tracks at his Central Florida studio, melding elements of rap, Chicago house music, Miami bass, and '70s electro-funk. His 1997 major-label debut, The Funky Breaks(ffrr/London), was mostly remixes; his suite of originals, Generate, came out to critical praise last year. His next full-length on London is due in March, but until then he's satiated hardcore fans with a limited-edition collection of dance cuts, Break to the Dance -- Volume 2, released on his own label, Genuine Zone Records.
The dozen tracks range from dance anthems to brooding, industrial-tinged droners to hip-hop embellishments. "Listen to the Beat" opens with a buzz saw synth grind that emulates a turntablist scratching it up. Robot-voice synth chatter joins the fray, making runs up and down the scale, and laser sound effects flourishes à la Star Warshark back to the '70s, along with the rubber band bass bounce that propels the track. Icey even pulls a tabla-drum sound from his drum machine. "Never Understand" opens with a young woman (or is that a computer?) moaning and giggling in pleasure, leading to croaking, compressed synths backed by a sinister low-end bass hum. The sprightly trickle of a digitized waterfall lightens things before a drubbing bass line darkens the track again.
The keening orchestral synths of "Tricks Theme" provide the backdrop for joyous soul-diva vocals. The uplifting moment devolves into wicked bass and, eventually, a quick-cut scratching segue back to vocals. Tom-tom fills and digitized handclaps kick-start "I Need You," a clubland wet dream in which a male player brags, "I didn't know this girl, but she walked up like she knew me/Wrapped her arms around me and began to kick it to me." On "My Level" wispy, flutelike synths percolate in quick, ascending runs over a backbeat of handclaps, tambourine, and slow-rolling bass. The airy notes are replaced during the chorus by a gritty female vocal sample that captures the disc's essence: "My treble is flowing, I can't stop a going/My level, my level, my level will reach the top." -- John Ferri