Artist: Title: Ernest Ranglin and Avila
Cat. #004 List price: $12.98 Format: CD/Digital/Vinyl
File Under: Reggae/World
Agetn: Mark Gorney – (510) 665-4211
Label: Avila Street Records – (415) 971-1171
Produced By Erenst Ranglin, Yossi Fine and Tony Mindel at In the Pocket Studio, Tracks were cut live, in one room, in glorious analogue sound using old school music production
Public Radio International
NPR Heavy Rotation / World Café
“At 81, Ernest Ranglin is still one of the greatest and subtlest musicians on the planet that you might not have discovered. The man credited with inventing ska — that’s his arrangement in Little Millie Small’s “My Boy Lollipop” from 1964 — is still making vital music. His specialty is inserting his sweet, gently astonishing guitar lines into all styles. The latest example is Bless Up, an album coming out May 20. It was recorded with Avila, a trio of musicians originally assembled to accompany Ranglin in concert. Listen for the interplay between pianist Jonathan Korty and Ranglin in this Abdullah Ibrahim classic, “Bra Joe from Kilimanjaro.”
— David Dye, World Café / Heavy Rotation: 10 Songs Public Radio Can’t Stop Playing
“The 16 tracks on this leisurely CD span the rowdy, the regal and the ruminative. They star Ernest Ranglin, who might be called the father of ska. He’s a Jamaican guitarist who can play both pensively and pyrotechnically, and even now, in his early 80s, he’s always tasteful and frequently startling. Ranglin wrote most of the tracks on this expansive project, and the music is sequenced perfectly for a party on a summer night. This is user-friendly music, world-beat style with a pronounced Kingston accent, and one can imagine how Ranglin and his Avilans might wail on this material in a club.
Ranglin’s pensive mode takes over on “Bra Joe From Kilimanjaro,” the warm second track, reprised at the end in “Bra Joe From Kilimanjaro (Home),” an even more relaxed and dreamy take of the same Abdullah Ibrahim tune. And while ska, rocksteady and reggae rhythms dominate, other feels also pertain, like the straight blues of the title track.
You could call Bless Up a jam-band record. While Ranglin is the focus (and a hell of an arranger), the other musicians also work magic. Check out how the saxophones and brass, bottomed by Charlie Wilson’s trombone, swagger atop “O Meets R,” a tune by producer Tony Mindel that could pass for a remix from the Clash’s Sandinista! “Rock Me Steady” features great big Ranglin wah-wah first and rapid-fire jazz guitar lines later, along with Eric Levy’s snaky piano and Inx Herman’s drums.
The tunes are largely midtempo, the arrangements straightforward, the rhythms solid if occasionally predictable. But that isn’t necessarily bad: “Good Friends,” the sentimental track setting the stage for that second, extra-mystical “Bra Joe,” is an album highlight. Nothing wrong with being pretty, a notion Ranglin’s been spreading since he first hit 50 years ago with Millie Small on “My Boy Lollipop,” the world’s introduction to ska. He remains one of that catchy genre’s foremost ambassadors.”
“Jamaican guitar god Ernest Ranglin helped Marley launched his career in ska, guided the Congos’ roots reggae masterwork, and explored African roots with Baaba Maal. A 2011 festival gig paired him with jazz act Avila, featuring South African drummer Inx Herman, Israeli bassist Yossi Fine and Californian keyboardist Jonathan Kordy, yielding an eponymous debut album. As with its predecessor, Bless Up is a jazz album with reggae leanings, but if anything this follow-up is stronger, evincing a real musical chemistry between the players, as heard on Bond Street Express and Mystic Blue. Tracks like Sivan and Rock Me Steady use dub effects to heighten the Jamaican connection, and there’s a nice cut of Abdullah Ibrahim’s Blues For a Hip King, with Ranglin’s guitar floating effortlessly above the groove. Overall this eminently listenable set shows that the 82-year-old Ranglin is still in fine form.”
“At 82 years of age, guitar legend Ernest Ranglin is showing no sign of slowing down. His last release, Avila, was the result of a three-day whirlwind of studio creativity where Ranglin and a top-notch trio of players melded a wide variety of musical influences into one of the freshest sounding reggae records of that year. The session was so satisfying that Ranglin decided to bring 11 new compositions to the same group of players for his latest release, Bless Up. Like its predecessor, Bless Up is another outstanding showcase for not just Ranglin’s signature guitar, but for the respective styles that he and the rest of his band-mates bring to the table. From jazz to swing to rock, the band seamlessly grooves from one genre to the next, all the while grounded by Ranglin’s signature ska sound. “I love playing with these musicians,” says Ranglin in a recent press release. “Like me, they’re interested in music from all over the world. They make it easy for me to express the emotions I feel. I think working together on this album allowed us to something special.” Here’s “Bond Street Express,” the first song on Bless Up, which is out now on Avila Street Records. “
“Ska and reggae guitar great Ranglin offers another ethereal session with the inspired Avila ensemble. The music bounces effortless from jazz to calypso, pop to reggae, all with a sunsoaked, joyous vibe.”.
Reggae Festival Guide
“Within the realms of instrumental reggae, few names stand out today, with even fewer in place that continue to build upon the legacy since its inception. One of the originators himself, Ernest Ranglin, returns with his latest Bless Up. After 30 solo releases, the 82-year-old living legend Ranglin is still playing as nimbly as he did in his early years. Ranglin and the band Avila weave tapestries that are equally at home and solidly threaded, tying together improvisational flights with an always-solid reggae backbone.
From the mysterious majestic opening one drop “Bond Street Express,” to the pensive “Bra Joe From Kilimanjaro,” Ernest opens Bless Up with the understated seasoning of one who is in full command of his craft and art: nothing gratuitous—everything in just the right place. With the jubilant rockers sound of “Sivan,” Ranglin and Avila invite us along to rock, sway and move with the rhythm, the warm and regal horns further sweetening the invitation.
Of course, the expected ska, rock steady, one drops and rockers are here: Ernest hits heights on the powerful driving (steppers feel) “Rock Me Steady,” with intricate lines that Ranglin makes sound easy; and flows into his line so smoothly out of the dreamy melodica solo in the upful ska track “Ska Renzo,” that you would think he and key/melodica player Eric Levy were linked by the fingers. But it is also the tango-tinged “El Mescalero” and the gospel feel of “Blues for a Hip King” that add to this musical journey, and round out the vast landscapes that should give reggae and jazz fans alike soulful joyous places to roam in this latest offering. Avila’s groove, anointed with Ernest Ranglin’s silky, playful and masterful lines, combine sweetly to indeed Blessus Up.”
ERNEST RANGLIN and AVILA: Bless Up
Ernest Ranglin and Avila
“A vividly enchanting, genre-bending 16-song project (eleven new Ranglin tunes among them) from the newly energized ska and reggae master guitarist – whose signature, muted upstroke and chord clustered sound was the backbone of a number of hits by the likes of Bob Marley, Jimmy Cliff, the Skatalites and Toots and the Maytals. Sympathetically accompanied by a band that came together in Sonoma, California called Avila, with Yossi Fine on bass, Jonathan Korty on keys, Michael Peloquin on saxes and chromatic harmonica, trumpeter Modesto Briseno, trombonist Charlie Wilson and multi-instrumentalist Eric Levy, Ranglin ingeniously adds modernistic jazz (think Wes Montgomery), rock and world music strains to his patented, Jamaica-rooted sound – constantly stretching musical boundaries and experimenting with a wide variety of flavors, rhythms and textures while encouraging his international band to do likewise. The aggregation’s jaw-dropping virtuosity is especially evident on tracks like the panoramic “Bond Street Express,” the Strayhorn/Ellington-like title song, a pair of sultry reggae numbers (“Follow On” and “You Too”), a meditative “Bra Joe From Kilimanjoro” (the Abdullah Ibrahim classic) and the dub effects-enhanced “Ska Renzo.” Ranglin is one of those few visionary musicians who are able to seamlessly blend the past, the present and the future with his in-the-pocket yet constantly adventurous fretwork. A great follow-up to 2012’s Avila outing.”
“There is a world of extraordinary musicians playing in Jamaica, but the one who seems to define what that island sound is all about is guitarist Ernest Ranglin. He’s played on more sessions than just about anyone there, and always lights a fire and shows why he lives in his own realm. He can move from reggae to soul to jazz and back and never break a sweat. These new sessions with the band Avila lean toward jazz, but it’s Ranglin’s guitar that makes things move.
Luckily, all the Avila members rise up to Ranglin’s level so there is no difference between the leader and the band. It’s like they tuned into the same vibration to catch a wave, and rode it right into shore. Trombone, saxophone, trumpet, keyboards and bass chase the sound of freedom, because the sonics are otherworldly, goodness and harmony are the ruling force. Let it be known that Ernest Ranglin is in the house, and his music remains a healing force.”
“It was cosmic good fortune that brought legendary ska/reggae guitarist Ernest Ranglin together with an international trio of musicians for a 2011 High Sierra Music Festival one-off performance. The chemistry that was discovered that night led to studio sessions, and a debut album released the following year. Now, the quartet’s recorded another set of Ranglin’s originals. On “Bless Up” he’s, once again, joined by Avila’s lineup — drummer Inx Herman, keyboardist Jonathan Korty and bassist Yossi Fine.
The 11 instrumental tracks blend Ranglin’s jazz approach to the ska and reggae style he helped create back in the ‘50s and ‘60s with Avila’s rock and world elements. The results are polished yet display a degree of swing and rhythmic grace. The members dig deep within the exploratory moments of “Blues for a Hip King” and just as easily put down a solid rhythmic foundation on “Rock Me Steady” even as it deceptively moves through its melodic complexities. “Sivan” offers a buoyant musical mood, while the title track mashes up reggae with touches of jazz and lounge. And, of course, besides his compositional contributions Ranglin still shows that his hybrid playing style remains vibrant throughout the album, particularly during “Stuff I am Looking For.”
While the quartet are able to insert a jazz-flavored number amidst the ska and reggae tunes without it seeming like an abrupt transition, “Bless Up” missed a conceptual opportunity that united these musical forces. The opening song, “Bond Street Express,” may set up good vibes and get us into a sunkissed groove but it would have worked better to have the contemplative piano-led jazz piece “Bra Joe from Kilimanjaro” properly bookend the album. Instead, it arrives in the second slot and then returns as a reprise as the final song. As they do their best to reinvigorate island sounds, Ranglin and Avila’s latest just needs a subtle switch in tracklist programming to completely reach its potential.”
“Jamaican-born guitarist and composer, Ernest Ranglin, has been wowing crowds and countries for decades with his signature style of ska, jazz, mento, reggae, and blues music. The instrumental tunes on Bless Up are very classy and rich with jazzy leanings, ska infusions, and island charisma. The rootsy jazz guitar stylings on “Bless Up” cement Ernest’s reputation for indelible recordings and compositions. The rippling guitar and piano melody are backed by a beautiful, laid-back percussion section. The jazzy, reggae-tinged “Joan’s Pen” is a heady mixture of classic vs. contemporary that finds an inner balance for everything to work just right. The swaying melody of “Follow On” showcases more diverse talent from Ernest’s finger-tips. The sassy piano and horn section adds some pizzazz to the jazzy rhythm and guitar arrangements. There are sixteen tracks in all that span the gamut from jazz, lounge, tropical, roots, reggae, ska, and blues. Bless Up is a step up from other recordings that may be similar, but you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone comparable to the great Ernest Ranglin. He’s 81 and still cranking out the tunes.”
“You don’t ordinarily expect octogenarians to make great albums. If they do, they usually revisit their earlier work, a victory lap. Count Ernest Ranglin among the rare exceptions. The greatest guitarist ever to come out of Jamaica has a new album, Bless Up, which is one of his best, and he’s made a whole bunch of them. It’s has a lot more straight-up reggae than the elegant reggae jazz he’s known for (and basically invented all by himself). It also has a more lush, full sound than his previous album, Avila. That one was recorded on the fly during a break from a reggae festival; this one has more tunesmithing than vamping jams, drawing on the seven decades of Jamaican music that in many ways Ranglin has defined.
Organ – played by either Jonathan Korty or Eric Levy – holds the center on many of the tracks here, Ranglin adding judicious solos, alternating between his signature, just-short-of-unhinged tremolo-picked chords, sinewy harmonies with the keys, nimbly fluttering leaps to the high frets and references to the better part of a century’s worth of jazz guitar. The songs transcend simple, rootsy two-chord vamps. Darkly majestic, emphatic minor-key horn arrangements evocative of mid-70s Burning Spear carry the melody on several of the numbers: Bond Street Express, the opening tune; Jones Pen, which recreates the classic 60s Skatalites sound but with digital production values; and Rock Me Steady, the most dub-flavored track, driven by some neat trap drumming.
Mystic Blue evokes both the Burning Spear classic Man in the Hills and the Cure’s Boys Don’t Cry. The bubbly Sivan also sounds like Jah Spear, but from a decade or so later. The title track is a swing tune, more or less, Ranglin’s upstroke guitar over a close-to-the-ground snare-and-kick groove giving away its Caribbean origins. Likewise, the band mutates the bolero El Mescalero with a distinctly Jamaican beat that adds a surreal dimension of fun tempered by an unexpectedly desolate Charlie Wilson trombone solo.
Ranglin plays with a deeper, more resonant tone – and a shout-out to Wes Montgomery – on Follow On. Blues for a Hip King works a stately gospel groove up to a long, organ-fueled crescendo that contrasts with Ranglin’s spare, incisive lines. Ska Renzo, the most straight-up ska tune here, works all kinds of neat up/down shifts with reverb-toned melodica, carbonated Rhodes piano and a sharpshooter horn riff. You Too starts out like a balmy Marley ballad but quickly goes in a darker direction, Michael Peloquin’s restless tenor sax giving way to tersely moody solos from trombone and piano, Yossi Fine’s bass holding it down with a fat pulse. There’s also a pretty trad version of the jazz standard Good Friends and the simple gospel vamp Bra Joe from Kilimanjaro, reprised at the end as a long Grateful Dead-like jam. Clearly Jimmy Cliff’s longtime musical director in the years after The Harder They Come hasn’t lost a step since then.”
“There’s not a lot of info on this CD, apart from song titles. From those we figure that Ernie or his crew have been listening to Abdullah Ibrahim, since they start out with “Bra Joe from Kilimanjaro.” There’s also a cover of Ibrahim’s “Blues for a Hip King” (though less successful), so I suspect the keyboard player Jonathan Korty (or is it Eric Levy?) has been practicing his big walking left hand for some time. On the title cut the sax player (Michael Pelloquin) steps up, so you don’t really notice that it is a guitar album. In fact it is a mellow jazz-inflected album, and Ranglin is just a member of the band which, considering his advanced age, is a nice way to hear him rather than the pressure that would result if you expected all guitar all the time. He comes out riffing on track 6, “Joan’s Pen,” and shows he has not slowed down. Overall the feel is of a very accomplished Jamaican jazz session, but better recorded! Musically too it recalls the pre-Skatalites era, back when the Alpha Boys School grads were a jazz group recording Jazz Jamaica from the Workshop. That album was an early release of Studio One records (August 1962, issued especially for Independence) and featured young Ernie Ranglin “regarded as the most exciting player outside the United States today,” according to Sonny Bradshaw. Since then Ranglin went on to appear on countless Jamaican music dayes (including Millie Small’s “My Boy Lollipop” which exploded Ska onto the British scene in 1964, sessions for Bob Marley, Jimmy Cliff, the Maytals, etc), and more recently a notable tour and album (In Search of the Lost Riddim) with Senegalese star Baaba Maal. This is not a repeat of Below the Bassline, his triumphant 1996 return, because that was based on some well-known Jamaican tunes (“Satta,” “54-46″ and his instrumental hit “Surfin”) and featured legendary sidemen, including Monty Alexander on piano and Roland Alphonso on sax. That summit of giants is a landmark album. This is him in a relatively new setting. I am always wary of pickup bands, because I have suffered through plenty of reggae shows where a headliner just came to town alone and called the tunes while a bunch of local kids thought they could skank it in de back yard. But Ranglin has nevertheless put together a creditable band here, with tough horns and the requisite thudding bass (Yossi Fine, producer of Hassan Hakmoun) and (uncredited) Sly-Style drums. There’s a tango! “El Mescalero,” with harmonica, muted trumpet, Hammond B3 and some dribbling runs on guitar. Yes Ernie, the high octane octogenarian, is still tip top.”
“Avila are a collective of top Californian session players from various ensembles spanning multiple genres. Ernest Ranglin is, well, Ernest Ranglin – the greatest guitarist in Jamaican history.
After the Avila backed Ranglin in 2011 at the High Sierra Music Festival and they decided to cut an 8 track album Avila, released in 2012. It was laid down in just 3 days – and it showed in the sketching feel to the tunes and slightly rough edge to the production. But the results were enjoyable enough to warrant a reunion for second collection of experiments and audio doodles. It features double the number of instrumentals this time with added dubby reverb and more of a reggae slant to the myriad blends.
These are still loose jams that often start as call and response and then take shape. Jazz, reggae, ska, Afro-Latin and African music all bubble to the surface at different times. Yet none of this should hamper your listening pleasure – Bless Up is not an ornate intricately worked jewel, so much as a group of musicians panning for gold.
Ernest doesn’t play many dextrous runs up and down the fretboard. He is cautious and conciliatory – working in short phrases, textures and fragmented chords. We hear excursions into filmic jazzy dub (Bond Street Express, Rock Me Steady, You Too) and big band boogie (Bless Up, Good Friends). Where on Avila there was a cover of South African pianist Abdullah Ibrahim here there are three: the extended drum-less piano jazz odyssey of Bra Joe from Kilimanjaro (reworked twice) and the swaying bar room tribute of Blues for a Hip King.
In terms of Ernest’s latterday jazz reggae albums, the benchmark remains his and Monty Alexander’s Below the Bassline. But enjoy this for what it is – some musicians exploring, having fun and feeling each other out. It’s a very pleasant, immersive listen for a relaxed summer’s day on the balcony, by the river or soaking in the bath.”
“The latest effort from Jamaican guitar maestro Ernest Ranglin – one of the masterminds behind My Boy Lollipop, the first ever ska-hit – is a collaboration with Avila, a group of top session musicians from South Africa, Israel and the U.S.
Ernest Ranglin is 82 years old, but is still going strong showcasing his smooth and warm guitar playing on this 16 track set titled Bless Up. The album was for the most part cut live with analogue sound and is reggae jazz at its best and includes Arabic excursions, jazz workouts, skanking ska, upbeat latin and bouncy African touches.
It offers loads of different rhythm structures, textures and flavors. But keywords are probably relaxing and playful. You have no idea what comes next and there are a constant flow of surprises throughout the set.
Bless Up follows several strong instrumental sets in the past six months or so – just check Nicodrum’s Back to Fundechan, Jaime Hinckson’s Take Flight, Jamaican Jazz Orchestra’s self-titled debut and Addis Pablo’s In My Father’s House, which is not completely instrumental though. Hats off to labels and musicians for gambling and releasing albums like these.”
World Music Central
“Opening up a barrel full of cool, the Jamaican musician and composer Ernest Ranglin, along with the group of musicians Avila, named for the street in San Francisco where the group rehearses, flashes brilliant with the delicious ska reggae grooves on Bless Up on the Avila Street Records label. Having powered through a career that has seen collaborations with the likes of Jimmy Cliff, Bob Marley, Monty Alexander, Theophilus Beckford and the Skatalites and a discography that includes Below the Bassline, Surfin, Rocksteady, In Search of the Lost Riddim, Guitar in Ernest, Softly With Ranglin, Memories of Barber Mack, Gotcha! and Avila, Mr. Ranglin is still proving the skilled musical statesman even into his eighties. Overflowing with a hip freshness, Bless Up will have listeners wading through some masterful grooves.
Together with bassist Yossi Fine, pianist, Hammond B-3 and Fender Rhodes player Jonathan Korty, tenor and baritone saxophonist and harmonica player Michael Peloquin, trumpet and flugelhorn player Modest Briseno, trombonist Charlie Wilson and pianist, Hammond B-3 Fender Rhodes, melodica, harmonium and Wurlitzer piano player Eric Levy, Mr. Ranglin kicks Bless Up with savagely savvy guitar lines that speak to both Mr. Ranglin’s ska reggae and jazz backgrounds.
Pooling a collection of reggae infused goodies like the opening “Bond Street Express,” ” Joan’s Pen,” “Stuff I Am Looking For” and “Mystic Blue,” Bless Up blazes with a bright and breezy feel. Delicious brass work coats tracks like “Silvan,” where the lazy grooves of title track “Bless Up” make for a full rich sound.
Two fabulous versions of “Bra Joe from Kilimanjaro” set up sultry prowls through the speakers, while the spectacular “Ska Renzo” vibrates with some stunning guitar work.
Bless Up brims over with a delicious easy feel, transporting the listener to a place where the skies are always blue, the water is always warm and the music is always just right.”