In celebration of the Jamaican jazz icon, Monty Alexander, pianist Donald Vega puts together a hard-swinging compilation of Monty’s great, early compositions. With Respect To Monty features an all-star lineup of Anthony Wilson (guitar), Hassan Shakur (bass) and Lewis Nash (drums).
Since his debut on Resonance Records, Spiritual Nature (2012), Vega is entirely his own man, completely in command of his material. As the late, great Mulgrew Miller’s replacement in the Ron Carter Trio, Vega has big shoes to fill and does so admirably. His wide appreciation of piano maestros is spotlighted with this new release that includes seven original Monty Alexander masterpieces.
Much like Monty, Donald approaches the piano with technical prowess, yet with a sense of playfulness and light spirit. Both men share a warm touch to the instrument – melodic and free. The trio of Vega, Shakur and Nash have an intimate working relationship. Shakur’s bass is a solid anchor, while Nash’s colorful, rhythmic drumming is chameleon-like, adapting effortlessly to each piece. Add to that the imagination, depth and precision playing of guitar virtuoso Anthony Wilson – and you have a winning combination. From thoughtful, slow ballads to bouncy up-tempo originals, they cover the bases. Vega smiles, “My heart is in the swing. No matter what style I play, the goal is always to make it feel good.”
Vega continues, “The way that Monty plays and writes seems to come from a place of what feels good to him too. At least in the tunes we selected, he likes the lighter, happier keys. There’s room to breathe on solos. He’s got an incredible imagination; great ears; great chops; and a killer left hand.”
Resonance Records President George Klabin explains, “The whole challenge was to find a pianist who was willing to do this project and who would fit the style of Monty’s music. Monty, I just want to say you’ve touched my life. You’ve given me a great deal of happiness. I hope that this music will give back what you’ve given to the world.”
“I am greatly delighted that the fantastic, inventive pianist Donald Vega has applied his wonderful creativity to compositions of mine. I enjoyed his unique interpretations.” – Monty Alexander
Donald Vega’s personal heroes include Oscar Peterson, Thelonious Monk, Duke Ellington, Monty Alexander, Ahmad Jamal, Hank Jones, Erroll Garner, Art Tatum, Herbie Hancock, McCoy Tyner, Kenny Barron, and Mulgrew Miller, and he draws upon those influences, while developing his own sound. In the process, he establishes his pride of place in any informed conversation about the upper echelons of pianistic jazz expression.
Vega’s fluent discourse in their various dialects masks his origins in Sandinista-era Nicaragua, where he spent the first fourteen years of his journey. His mother brought him to Los Angeles at age 14, where he would eventually meet drum icon Billy Higgins.
Higgins nurtured Vega’s will to swing, to play jazz without a “Latin accent.” “I played with him, but also he gave me tapes of Bud Powell and Charlie Parker without telling me who they were,” Vega says. “I didn’t know Higgins was a star who had recorded with everyone, only that this nice man was taking me under his wing. So I made a conscious decision to go deeper.”
In 2005, he received a scholarship to Manhattan School of Music. During his two years at MSM, where he received a Masters and for a subsequent two years at Juilliard he studied with Kenny Barron.
With his two releases on Resonance Records – Spiritual Nature (2012) and the brand new With Respect To Monty (2015) – Vega continues the forward momentum of his snowballing success. Vega proves once again that he is one of the finest pianists on the planet.
1. Eleuthera (M. Alexander) (5:30)
2. 3000 Miles Ago (J. Clayton) (7:07)
3. Compassion (M. Jackson) (6:23)
4. Slippery (M. Alexander) (6:08)
5. Consider (M. Alexander) (6:11)
6. Mango Rengue (M. Alexander) (5:55)
7. Renewal (M. Alexander) (7:07)
8. You Can See (M. Alexander) (6:25)
9. Sweet Lady (M. Alexander) (5:00)
10. The Gathering (D. Vega) (6:55)
Donald Vega- Piano, arranger (all tracks)
Anthony Wilson- Guitar
Hassan Shakur- Bass
Munyungo Jackson- Percussion (“You Can See” and “Slippery”)
Lewis Nash- Drums