The high-noon showdown is music friendly on this album.

Pianist sticks to
Jamaican roots

Jazz pianist Monty Alexander has never strayed far from his Jamaican roots. Born and raised in Kingston, Alexander as a youngster sat in with local hotel and nightclub bands. He also became a recording session musician for Coxsone Dodd's Studio One, a member of a Motown-like backing band that provided the crucial groove of the bluebeat hits of the late 1950s. It was music that was the precursor to ska, rocksteady and finally reggae that the Caribbean island has been famous for.

Monty Alexander with special guest Ernest Ranglin (Telarc)

Alexander's deceptively simple keyboard style, shaped in the studio, was transferred to his later jazz career when he moved to the United States in late 1961, where he made his name by working with such luminaries as Frank Sinatra, Dizzy Gillespie, Clark Terry and Sonny Rollins.

But ever since 1999, Alexander has regularly recorded jazz-reggae hybrid projects, including an intriguing collaboration with the dynamic riddim duo of Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare.

His latest album, "Rocksteady," pairs him with another fellow Studio One veteran, the fine guitarist Ernest Ranglin, as the duo and a fine New York City backing band pay tribute to that homegrown Jamaican sound nurtured throughout the years.

This live-in-studio project, while nothing earthshattering, still has a disarming, laid-back feel. It's not often you hear piano predominantly featured in reggae, but Alexander plays it light and limber in his own distinctive way. Combine that with Ranglin's single-note lines on his hollow-body electric, and it's irie stuff in a jazz stylee.

With the exception of a lone Alexander original, "Nightwork," with its comparatively more pronounced Caribbean vibe, everything else are covers, dating from the Skatalites' exotic "Orientalisms" of "Confucius" to a lovely duet on Bob Marley's "Redemption Song" that closes the album on a quiet, prayerful note.

Alexander also tootles a bit of melodica on the aforementioned Skatalites tune, as well as on "East of the River Nile," by the late dub master and melodica player himself Augustus Pablo. The inclusion of hand drums on the latter also gives this rendition a bit of a Nyabinghi feel.

There is one vocal number on "Rocksteady," courtesy of the great soulful singer Toots Hibbert, showing good chemistry with the band as he reprises one of his earlier Maytals hits, "Pressure Drop."

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