Thursday, August 9, 2007

Concert Review; Ernest Ranglin and Tabarruk; Sunday, August 5/07, Harbourfront, Toronto

The guitar player Ernest Ranglin has been touring and recording for more than fifty years. By the mid 1950's, the accomplished musician had already played the Jamaican hotel circuit and toured the Caribbean. In 1958, he led his own five piece band when one Chris Blackwell caught them playing at the Half Moon Hotel in Montego Bay, and he was inspired to record the band for his new Island Records label. While there is an obvious jazz leaning in Ernest's guitar style in the mento days, Ranglin's subsequent recordings at Federal Records by Coxsone Dodd were recorded after the mento music style had waned and been replaced by American R&B. These instrumentals sounded a little like R&B records, but with the beat shifted, and some insist these Coxsone productions of Ernest Ranglin's group are the very first ska recordings. After a brief stint working as an in-house arranger for JBC radio, Ernest Ranglin was summoned by Chris Blackwell to London, England, where Ranglin quickly established himself at Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club. With more commercial success in mind, Chris Blackwell had Ranglin and other musicians back Millie Small for "My Boy Lollipop" which was the first Jamaican single to break out as a world wide hit.
Despite his renowned status, Ranglin has recorded only sporadically since the early seventies, including 1970's "Boss Reggae" and "Sound and Power" in 1975. He toured as a member of Jimmy Cliff's band in the mid-seventies, and he didn't release his next record "In Search of the Lost Riddim" until 2000. That release saw Ranglin recording in Africa, and returning to the stage. His appearance at Hoarbourfront that summer precipitated several successful return appearances at Hugh's Room.
The sound check took place before noon, when hardly anyone was milling about Harbourfront. Everybody seemed to be in good spirits, and Ernest's local backing band, Tabrruk, have played enough shows with him to guarantee a comfortable fit between the guitarist and Tabarruk. Local singer and fellow reggae veteran Jay Douglas joined the show for a song, but most of the concert consisted of the smooth (but not slick) instrumentals that have defined Ranglin's sound in recent years. Tabarruk was augmented by the two-man horn section of Nick "Brownman" and Marcus Ali, who have provided a fantastic addition to plenty of local concerts by various artists around town over the years.
There was another nod to the roots of reggae with "54-46 (That's My Number)" but Ernest Ranglin's sophisticated live performance arrangements lend themselves to his earlier jazz influences, such as Wes Montgomery. This daytime show got the attention it deserved from the audience, for the most part. While Harbourfront's daytime concerts bring out a high ratio of audience members just passing through, there were enough fans of both Ernest Ranglin and jazzy guitar performances (the latter group surely converted to Ranglin fans by the end of the show) to ensure an enthusiastic and appreciative crowd. Ernest and Tabarruk played for an hour, and despite the brevity of this performance, everyone on stage and off seemed to have had a great time.

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