August 2005

Ernest Ranglin - Surfin’
Tropic CD-83632
Format: CD
Released: 2005

by Joseph Taylor

Musical Performance ***1/2
Recording Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ***1/2

In the late ‘50s, Jamaican jazz guitarist Ernest Ranglin made the acquaintance of two men who would, with his help, have an enormous influence on music. Chris Blackwell, president of Island Records, met Ranglin in 1958 and released an album by him and pianist Lance Heywood. It was Island’s first release. The following year, Ranglin joined a session band that recorded for Clement "Sir Coxsone" Dodd’s Studio One label. One of the band’s tunes from 1959, "Shuffling Bug," is often cited as the first ska record. Ranglin would later appear on recordings by the Wailers and the Melodians, among others.

On the title track of his new disc, Ranglin revisits "Surfin’," another song he recorded for Studio One. The new version of "Surfin’" has the same rhythmic complexity as the original, and Ranglin plays it with even more energy and inventiveness. Surfin’ was very cleanly recorded in Jamaica’s Tuff Gong Studios with some of the country’s great jazz players, including guitarist Bo Pee and keyboard player Robbie Lyn. Ranglin’s jazz is based on Caribbean rhythms, but his restless musical curiosity has taken him from London to Senegal, and Surfin’ shows the influence of his travels.

The tunes on Surfin’ are tightly arranged, with the supporting musicians doing ensemble work. Ranglin takes most of the solos, and his playing style seems so effortless that it takes a while to hear how much he’s playing and how well. Ranglin’s soul-jazz lays down a steady groove, but his melody-filled playing will feed your head, too.