Jamaican Jazz


At first glance, the idea of mixing reggae and jazz may seem like a paradoxical exercise, given the freeform and exploratory nature of one genre and the consistent rhythmic structure of the other. Regardless, guitarist Ernest Ranglin has been successfully merging the two since the '60s, when he left his native Jamaica and headed for London to find success as both a jazz club performer as well as a recording artist for the fledgling Island label. Four decades after those early days in London, Ranglin was still successfully mixing jazz with his homeland groove, as evidenced in Surfin', his 2005 recording on Telarc.

Although Ranglin is surrounded by a capable team on this mostly instrumental set, it's all about the frontman, who vacillates between a steady island groove, frequent jazz riffs and occasional pop balladry. The title track opens the set with a straight-ahead reggae groove that Ranglin uses as a bed to play guitar runs that hint at jazz but mostly stay rooted in an island sensibility. But the followup track, "Reminiscing," provides a clearer sense of his improvisational capabilities.

While the album, available in the Digital Only section, rarely strays too far from the basic rhythmic structure of reggae, there are subtle innovations that take place along the way. "Jah Kana" loosens up enough to make more room for the horns to create a big band vibe, while "Ramouslin" follows a melody that's decidedly Middle Eastern. "Dancing Mood II" is the sole vocal track in the set, with get-on-your-feet lyrics delivered by producer Floyd Lloyd Seivright.

Surfin' is first and foremost a reggae album, but Ranglin changes things up enough to hold the interest of listeners coming from someplace other than the islands.