23 July 2014

Ernest Ranglin - Bless Up


Ernest Ranglin & Avila: Bless Up

Avila Street Records, 2014

At age 82, Ernest Ranglin is one of the great names of Jamaican music, and his newest album, Bless Up, is a sustained blast of summery joy. That’s not unexpected from Ranglin and his band of co-conspirators, including South African drummer Inx Herman, Israeli bassist Yossi Fine, and US keyboardist Jonathan Korty.
What’s odd is that the album got me thinking about my great uncles. Along with Bob Marley, Ranglin is probably one of the most accomplished and recognized Jamaican musicians, though they have very different stories and professional trajectories (and Ranglin has far outlived Marley, though he is 13 years older).
You see, my uncle Hugh was a rabble rousing activist, Communist Party member, US Congressman, and general gadfly to the political mainstream. His brother Phil was quiet, studious, and brilliant – a university professor of Greek and Classics. Also Phil long outlived Hugh.
Similar backgrounds, different lives. One can only dream about the international collaborations Marley would have pursued were he still with us. But no dreaming is necessary to revel in the joyous music on Bless Up. Ranglin and his band – first assembled for the High Sierra Music Festival in 2011 – play a delicious blend of ska-flavored jazz and reggae-flavored instrumentals.
The B3-infused title track marries mellow horns with Ranglin’s speedy but smooth guitar work. Exotic hints of Arabic and Indian music spice the opening track “Bond Street Express.” And the album closes with a languid interpretation of Abdullah Ibrahim’s “Bra Joe from Kilimanjaro.”
“This album takes the listener through every era of Ernest’s music,” says Youssi Fine. “He was constantly adding new flavors, while staying rooted in each particular style, be it reggae, jazz, or Latin grooves.”
This tasty album is a great starting point for those not familiar with Ranglin’s sound, and equally appealing to this giant of music who has been going strong since his first recordings in the late 1950s.
“I want people to hear this album so they’ll know Ernest is still going strong at 82, composing and playing great music that touches on all the eras of his career,” says producer Tony Mindel, who was instrumental in forming Avila in 2011. “I know he still has a lot of new ideas he wants to express, and we want to continue making music with him, and for him, for as long as we can.” 
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