Avila Featuring Earnest Ranglin (Avila Street Records, 2012)
The band backing longtime Jamaican guitar great Ernest Ranglin on this release was originally set to do so only at 2011’s High Sierra Music Festival, but everything went so well that producer Tony Mindel decided to get all the participants together to record an album.
After rehearsing at Mindel’s house on Avila Street in San Francisco, the players hit the studio and laid down tracks in what little time Ranglin et al. had at their disposal. The finished product sounds very finished indeed, not like a quickie album at all. Rather, it’s a rippling good collection that combines Ranglin’s ska and reggae background with lots of jazz, funk and African enrichment.
Thanks to the expertise of the participants, including bassist Yossi Fine, drummer Ian Inx Herman, Jonathan Korty on keyboards, saxophonist Alex Baky, trumpeter Ryan Scott and a few special guests, everything comes together perfectly. The opening Abdullah Ibrahim composition “Manenburg” sports a solo-laced Jamaican pulse, leading into the percolating “Memories of Senegal” (a remake of a tune from Ranglin’s criminally underrated Modern Answers to Old Problems release, as is the similarly tight “Swaziland”), a showcasing of Ranglin’s and Fine’s chops aptly titled “Ernossi,” the whimsical shuffle of “Ska Rango,” Korty’s composition “Uncle Funky” delivering precisely what the name suggests, a heartfelt cooling down in the form of “Avila (Oscar’s Song)” and finally a “Return to Manenburg” taking it all home with a twist or two.
It’s great to know that a master like Ranglin (who’s 80 years old) is still a nimble and inspired player, and that his collaborations with diverse musicians like the ones featured here can be so very fruitful. The same crew is reportedly at work on a followup to this disc, and will no doubt bring the goods a second time.