World & Latin

Architects Of Ska


On the surface, pianist Monty Alexander and guitarist Ernest Ranglin may sound like they come from dramatically different places. But their histories run almost parallel and finally crossed when Ranglin appears as the special guest on Alexander's 2004 Telarc recording Rocksteady, an album that pays tribute to the Jamaican ska heyday of the 1960s.

Alexander is, for the most part, a skilled and versatile disciple of the American jazz tradition. Ranglin's exotic sounds, meanwhile, are still deeply rooted in the Caribbean groove. They both hail from the burgeoning Jamaican ska scene of the 1960s, when seminal figures like Toots & the Maytals, Clement "Coxson" Dodd and others held court and crafted great records at the world famous Studio One. Four decades later, the two come brought those influences to Rocksteady.

The set opens with Dave and Ansell Collins' "Double Barrell," one of the first Jamaican hits in America. Other worthwhile covers include the Skatellites' "Confucius," Desmond Dekker's "Israelites" and the Heptones' "Fatty Fatty." Two Jamaican icons also make it into the mix via renditions of Burning Spear's "Marcus Garvey" (an ode to the Jamaican national hero) and Bob Marley's "Redemption Song."

Most of the album was crafted live in the studio with little or no overdubs or other engineering tricks, which puts it even more on a par with its antecedents from the Studio One heyday. The reunion of these two old friends whose careers have followed disparate paths reminds us that the old ties are often the strongest. And in this case, they're long enough to encompass the furthest borders of jazz, reggae, R&B and soul.