Pianist Donald Vega takes his cue from the greats, and by that I mean his personal heroes such as Oscar Peterson, Thelonious Monk, Ahmad Jamal, Hank Jones, and Art Tatum. All those artists influenced Vega’s swinging, yet elegant style. Another idol of his is Jamaican jazz icon Monty Alexander, whom Vega pays tribute to on his latest album With Respect to Monty. The album, released July 10 on Resonance Records, features Vega’s refreshing, eclectic take on some of Alexander’s finest compositions.
Many artists have tried to take on the daunting task of doing tribute albums of their heroes, but Vega was up to the challenge and did not disappoint. He had some practice of covering jazz veterans on Spiritual Nature, his début album for Resonance Records, where he covered tunes by Brazilian pianist Antonio Carlos Jobim, saxophonist Benny Golson, and Alexander. He is also a member of bassist legend Ron Carter’s Golden Striker Trio, so his piano intellect is not one to be questioned. And evidence of his talent is heard on tracks such as the upbeat, Latin tinged “Mango Renge” from his latest record. He is joined by Anthony Wilson on guitar, Hassan Shakur on bass, Munyungo Jackson on percussion and drummer Lewis Nash on the album.
There is a combination of slow ballads and uptempo records that perfectly showcase Vega’s comfort with swing and soft standards. Yet Vega admits that “my heart is in the swing, no matter what style I play. The goal is always to make it feel good.”
He sure does make you want to jump on the dance floor on the groovy, rhythmically inspiring “Slippery;” which has strong reggae influences from Alexander’s Jamaican roots. And on “Renewal” Vega shows off his rapid piano chops. The song starts off on a soft, dreamy note with great backing from Wilson on guitar. Then midway, Vega takes it to town with his fiery solo.
There is not one tune on the album that lacks soul or poise. Alexander even noted how impressed he was with Vega’s interpretation of his music. So, if Vega’s hero approves, then so will everyone else.