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Nothing new can be said about the genius of Ernest Ranglin and the breadth of his influence on modern guitar. He's been around since the heyday of Kingston club life with combos like the Eric Deans Orchestra, through to the studio period and the countless hits he both played on and arranged (largely without credit), and on to American neo-ska outfits like Rancid that cite him as an influence. He's also joined in on reggae-jazz outings with longtime companion Monty Alexander and world beat collaborations with the likes of Senegalese star Baaba Maal.
Ranglin is one of a handful of surviving Jamaican musicians who can say "been there, done that," and he's never been reticent to share his musical experiences. This latest, his 13th recording as a leader, takes in all of the above-mentioned stylistic territory, but this seemingly free-ranging trip is united by the presencein one form or anotherof the shuffle beat. That shuffle is the pillar of early Jamaican music, and Ranglin exploits it to mostly good results on both up- and downtempo tracks.
It's evident on the title track, the first of sixteen on this CD. "Surfin'" and the similar "Surfside," which comes later, both feature heavy bass grooves (supplied by Mikey Fletcher) over which the maestro engages in his trademark lightning-fast chordal work. The latter track brings Jamaican saxophone ace Dean Fraser in on the act. "Diamond" also features Frazer's intensely soulful yet joyous phrasings, but in this case over a deep bed of Nyabinghi (an Afro-based religious sect mainly occupying hill country to the east of the island) drums.
The shuffle accelerates on tracks like the closer, "Yu Si Mi" (You See Me), which approximates the staccato repetitions of current dancehall, as does the aptly-titled penultimate track, "Dance All." "Reminiscing" is a brass-heay number that brings out the best in the varied front line.
Surfin' comes close to a wipeout on the one "big" number, "Dancing Mood II," a reworking of the Delroy Wilson vocal hit "Dancing Mood." The track is overproduced, and Floyd Seivright's singing doesn't come close to challenging Wilson's pained tenor or even adding anything new.
Despite that misstep, Surfin' is yet another welcome, if unessential, showcase of Ranglin's guitar mastery. It does coast in spots, but one can argue that he has nothing to prove at his point.
Personnel: Ernest Ranglin - guitar; Bo Pee Bowen - rhythm guitar; Dede Briscos _
trombone; Glen Browne - bass; Jeffrey Browne-tenor sax; Calvin
Cameron-trombone; Firehouse Danny-bass; Dan Eaves-alto/tenor/britone
sax; mark Feinberg -alto/tenor/baritone sax; Micael Fletcher-bass;
Dean Frazer- tenor sax; Steve Golding- rhythm guitar;-Romeo
Gray-trombone; Ian Hird-alto sax; Desi Jones -drums; Paul Kastick
-drums; Stefan Klein-trumpet; Frederick Lasfargeas-piano; David
madden trumpet; larry McDonald-percussion; Tom
Schwartz-trumpet/flugelhorn; Floyd Lloyd Seivwright-vocals; Mike
Smith-trombone; Derrick Stweart-drums;/percussion; Mallory
Williams-keyboards; Wade Zabula Williams-drums and percussion