Surfin’ (Tropic Entertainment/Telarc CD-83682, 2005)
Ernest Ranglin was an accomplished guitarist in his native Jamaica long before there was such a thing as reggae. His musical career even predates ska, a genre he helped create. Having cut his teeth as a jazz player, he brought that freewheeling spirit to the sounds coming out of post-independence Jamaica in the early 1960s, music also built around homegrown and imported ingredients like mento, calypso and r+b. Since then he’s been a consistent key player in the ska, rock steady and reggae eras, to say nothing of his work in the jazz realm and on such African-infused albums as In Search of the Lost Riddim and Modern Answers to Old Problems.
His latest finds him primarily in a reggae state of mind groove-wise, but the loosely spirited feel of Ranglin’s guitar riffing makes it clear there’s some jazz blood in that island pulse, particularly when an abundance of horns shares the space.
Surfin’ was recorded mainly in Jamaica with a distinguished cast including Dean Frazer (saxophone), Robbie Lyn (keyboards), Winston Bowen (rhythm guitar), Glen Browne (bass) and Larry McDonald (percussion) who each bring their expert chops into play.
Tunes like “Surfside” and the title track are sweet, solo-laden reggae instrumentals, while others such as “Jah Kana,” “These Times” and “Nyah” combine soul and mento textures with jumping ska tempos.
The last three tracks- “September,” “Dance All” and “Yu Si Mi” -step away from the Caribbean for an appealing jazz/funk feel, and though “Dancing Mood II” (the only track to feature vocals) is on the lightweight side, this is one immensely pleasing album.
Best of all is “Diamond,” a killer combination of deep roots drumming, Ranglin’s sharp soloing and Frazer’s brooding sax, slow-burning in a style reminiscent of reggae/jazz innovator Cedric Brooks.