All of a sudden, Ernest Ranglin is moving out front to receive the recognition he has long deservedand which he has long received from knowing fellow musiciansas a result of his signing with Telarc Records at the urging of his fellow native Jamaican and long-time friend, Monty Alexander. Long respected by the likes of Randy Weston, Melba Liston, Bob Marley and Sonny Rollins, even as Marley eclipsed Ranglin in public recognition, Ranglin suddenly is being appreciated for the master guitarist that he is, and has always been. Part of what makes Ranglin such an honest musician is his integrity: He plays what he knows and what he feels, and he brings his audience along with him. Even though it may have taken several decades for his public audience to realize his irresistibility, musicianship and influence, at least it happened.
Ranglin finally received wide-scale distribution on his first Telarc release, Modern Answers To Old Problems,
which combines the Afro-pop of Tony Allen, the jazz of Courtney Pine, the polyrhythmic percussiveness of Olalekan Babalola, the spirituality of singer Sylvia Tella's voice and the reggae of Ranglin. This mix worked sublimely, invigorating the performers and exciting listeners throughout the world.
But Ranglin, even within his parameters of consistency, isn't one to be repetitious. So, his new album, Gotcha!
doesn't abandon the ethnic blend of the previous album, as much as it builds on it with an easier style arises from the rhythms of Ranglin's island homeland. While Courtney Pine added the jazz sensibility and inflections to Modern Answers To Old Problems,
Antonio Hart, fresh from his search for world-music naturalism (see the JazzTimes
article about him), synthesizes the complexity of jazz with the joyousness of reggae. Joining with Anthony Jackson, who worked with Monty Alexander, and "Crusher" Bennett of the Steely Dan and Spyro Gyra groups, Ranglin has recorded an album that remains always danceable and yet ever listenable as he improvises in his characteristic style over the pulse of each tune.
"Soulful Moments" eases the listener into the CD with a fairly simple tune that is what one would expect on the streets of St. Thomas or within an island resort. Hart's clear tone reassures, even as pianist Warren Bernhardt's flow relaxes. But then, "Blackout" picks up the tempo, not so much in an attention-getting drama as in a livelier approach that engages everyone in a sense of fun. Tunes like "Moondance" hold no surprises, even as the percussionists introduce the tune. And yet, the subtlety of Ranglin's interpretations rises above such histrionics as a mature and confident statement containing technical mastery and implications of his lifelong experiences. "Rock It With Me" doesn't startle, even though Ranglin could have chosen to do so. Instead, he nudges along the group in the current of his music and holds back the tempo to a moderate level. Younger guitarists would have chosen to accelerate the tune for the pyrotechnics instead of its communicative values.
Ranglin's influence is such that Bob Marley had asked him for lessons. Ranglin toured the Caribbean with his bands and came to the attention of American audiences 30 years ago and yet remained under the radar screen of most listeners who enjoy ska and reggae.
That's not true any longer. At the age of 69 (after June 19 of this month), Ernest Ranglin's status of "overnight sensation" finally is becoming true.