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CD Review: Avila Featuring Ernest Ranglin

A Jazzy Session With a Jamaican Legend

About.com Rating 5 Star Rating

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Avila Featuring Ernest Ranglin

Avila Featuring Ernest Ranglin

(c) Avila Street Records, 2012
Ernest Ranglin, the iconic Jamaican guitarist who was long one of Studio One's most in-demand session players (among his credited tracks: Millie Small's "My Boy Lollipop," The Melodians' "Rivers of Babylon," The Wailers' "It Hurts to Be Alone," Toots and the Maytals' "54-46 Was My Number," and dozens of others), headed to California to perform at the High Sierra Music Festival in July of 2011. His ad hoc backup band, put together by producer Tony Mindel, included bassist Yossi Fine (David Bowie, Lou Reed, The Toure-Raichel Collective and its uncollected parts, and a million other artists), Inx Herman (Mickey Hart, Paul Simon), and Jonathan Korty. In so many words, it appears they played their set on stage at the festival, noticed that they were a great freakin' band, and decided to record a record. Having just three days to do it, they got to work quickly.

Full Review

Can we just talk for a minute about how awesome Ernest Ranglin is? I mean, "living legend" doesn't really do him justice. He's credited with literally inventing ska, for Pete's sake. Yossi Fine, whose bass-playing and production credits read like an international celebrity mixtape, says that Ranglin is the best guitar player in the world. And at 80, all sources declare him as fit and full of stamina as ever, and a joyful and relaxing presence both in the studio and on stage. So it's not really surprising that he's still making music this good, 60 years after making his first mento recordings in the early 1950s. It's also worth noting that he's not just a ska scratcher. His own compositions are better-categorized as Jamaican jazz -- rhythmically rooted in the Jamaican tradition, but much further-reaching in melodic scope and range. He's so smooth and so effortless, though, that if you spend too much time trying to identify whatever you're listening to, you'll never come up for air.

So let's talk about this record. The fellas went into the studio, armed with a stack of charts, and let the magic happen. Despite being a pretty fundamentally jazzy collection, it's not a long album (just shy of 45 minutes), and the songs are generally pretty short, most being in the 4-6 minute range. Rather than long-winded exploration, the group gets right to the meat of each song fairly quickly, constructing a rich rhythmic base upon which Ranglin can play his soaring guitar melodies. Don't be confused by Ranglin's background, either. This is not a BLAT-BLAT-BLAT in-your-face ska record; it's a quiet, smoothly-paced, internationally-influenced jazz-funk sort of thing. It's soft on the ears and decidedly brain-stirring, and you can just hear the fun these guys are having when they play together, both the younger band members and Ranglin himself.

Highlights are plentiful, and include the punchy and groove-heavy Yossi Fine composition "Ernossi" (get it?), Jonathan Korty's short and appropriately-named "Uncle Funky," and the wildly polyrhythmic "Memories of Senegal," which first appeared on Modern Answers to Old Problems, an Afrobeat album that Ranglin recorded in 2000. Really, though, the whole CD is a joy to listen to. It's as though we were gifted the opportunity to listen in on a jam session carried out by musicians who were gifted the opportunity to play together. Good stuff, right down the line.

'Avila Featuring Ernest Ranglin' was released in August of 2012 on Avila Street Records. Total playing time is 43.6 minutes.

Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.
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