Stir It Up - The Music of Bob Marley (UltraHD review)

Monty Alexander; Jamaican Reggae 'Ridim' Section; The Gumption Band; USA Jazz Rhythm Section. FIM LIM UHD 0770 LE.

On this remastered FIM/LIM (First Impression Music/Lasting Impression Music) audiophile disc, Monty Alexander plays the music of Bob Marley. What do you mean, Who's Monty Alexander? Well, at least you recognize Bob Marley. Let me go back into my old teacher mode again and annoy those of you already in the know: Monty Alexander is a Jamaican-born jazz pianist who has been performing for some fifty-odd years. Bob Marley, of course, is the Jamaican-born King of Reggae, who in his relatively short lifetime became an internationally famous singer, songwriter, and guitarist.

What I didn't know about either artist is that they were both born in Jamaica within a year apart, and that while Marley became a superstar with some fifteen albums to his credit, Alexander has been performing longer and recorded over five times as many albums (seventy-six of them since 1969). The Alexander album under review originally appeared in 1999 under the Telarc label, and the folks at FIM just recently remastered it.

On the album, Alexander does jazz interpretations of a dozen of Marley's most-familiar tunes. OK, but probably the first questions that come to one's mind are Why, and who will it please? Marley fans may not want somebody else tinkering with their favorite music, and Alexander fans may not want the jazz man messing around in Jamaican reggae.

Fortunately, all is well. Most of this jazz-reggae fusion comes off pretty nicely, even if it isn't the best of either world. Personally, I'd still rather hear Marley done by Marley. Nevertheless, jazz is jazz, and Alexander's laid-back, straight-ahead, easy-listening jazz style falls sweetly on the ear. The fact that Alexander's renditions of Marley may appeal more to Alexander's fans (or jazz fans in general) than to Marley's fans (or reggae fans in general) we'll just have to leave alone. The music on the album is what it is: essentially jazz. Understand that going in.

A number of fine musicians back up Alexander in the rhythm section, including Dwight Dawes, keyboards; Robert Angus, guitar; Trevor Mckenzie, bass; Glen Browne, bass; Rolando Wilson, drums; Desmond Jones, percussion; Derek DiCenzo, guitar; Hassan J.J. Wiggins, bass; Troy Davis, drums; and guest artists Steve Turre, trombone and conch shell, and Sly Dunbar on "Could You Be Loved." Be aware, though, there is no singing involved. Alexander is a jazz pianist, and he's the star of the show. While not having Marley's words may disappoint his followers, Alexander's pianism at least partly makes up for it. These are not mere cover items, after all, but jazz renditions of Marley's work.

The twelve songs on the album are "So Jah She," "Nesta (He Touched the Sky)," "Jammin," "Crisis,"
"Could You Be Loved," "The Heathen," "No Woman No Cry," "Running Away," "Is This LOVE?," "Stir It Up," "Kaya," and "I Shot the Sheriff." Incidentally, the "Could You Be Loved" track is the extended remix featuring Sly Dunbar, while the album omits the regular version of the song.

We find two good fusions on the album. First, there's obviously the fusion jazz and reggae, which Alexander executes with a mellifluent sense of improvisation while maintaining a semblance of reggae beat. Second, there's the fusion of Alexander's piano and the players around him, whose interplay of instruments is delightful throughout the program.

Monty Alexander
Favorites? Sure. I enjoyed "Nesta" for its mournful yet uplifting spirit; "Jammin" and "Could You Be Loved" for their full-ahead jamming jazz style; "Crisis" for its oddly reassuring, calming influence; and "Is This LOVE?" "Kaya," and "Stir It Up" for their more-obvious Jamaican jazz influences.

Finally, let me remind potential buyers again that this is primarily a jazz album, not a reggae album, and Bob Marley's music is simply a starting point for Monty Alexander's own riffs, rhythms, and free forms. As such, it works fine. But if you want Marley, buy Marley.

And, yeah, there are a couple of selections I found a little too syrupy for my taste, neither very jazzy nor very reggae. Yet even these are relaxing and easy on the ears, and for this reason may even appeal to wider audience than the other tracks on the disc.

Producers Glen Browne and Robert Woods and engineers Jack Renner and Robert Friedrich recorded the music in October 1998 for Telarc Records at Avatar Studio, Studio A, New York City. FIM producer Winston Ma and Five/Four Productions engineer Robert Friedrich remastered the album in 2014 for FIM/LIM using the 32-bit Ultra High Definition mastering format and PureFlection processing.

One hears a very quick transient response, with crisp articulation throughout the set. Also, there is the expected good bass and treble response, with deep, tight lows and extended highs. The stereo spread is not quite as wide as on most pop recordings but remains more realistically centered just in from the left and right speakers. Then, there's a nice midrange transparency and an overall smoothness that's hard not to like. It's a realistic presentation and one worthy of FIM's audiophile remastering; whether it's worth the extra money over the standard Telarc issue may depend on how much you already like the album or how much in terms of price the absolute best sound means to you.

Like other FIM/LIM products, this one comes packaged in a glossy hardcover book format, with notes and pictures bound to the inside and the disc housed in a static-proof inner liner, further enclosed in a fastened paper sleeve.


To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:

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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

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It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa