Earth Tones – Charlie Hunter, Chinna Smith, and Ernest Ranglin
Earl “Chinna” Smith had always wanted to cut a jazz record, but he had never really had the time before just recently. Playing guitar for dudes like Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Jimmy Cliff, Burning Spear and Black Uhuru, it seems, can keep one busy.
The names of possible collaborators were tossed around, and Ernest Ranglin’s stuck. A fellow Jamaican, and fellow guitarist, Ranglin was an obvious choice; not only had he played with Cliff, and Marley as well, but he had played with Sonny Rollins, and Jamaican jazz pianist Monty Alexander.
One more name had stuck. While brainstorming for the project, Smith had been listening to an American guitarist, 8-string phenomenon Charlie Hunter; specifically, he had been listening to Hunter’s Natty Dread album, a song-by-song rearrangement of Marley’s classic disc. Considering Hunter’s apparent affinity for island riddims, he would fit right in with Ranglin and Smith.
And he did. Accompanied by drummer Shawn Pelton (SNL, Brecker Brothers) and percussionist Manolo Badrena (Weather Report, Talking Heads), the guitar trio cut Earth Tones, a collection of original tunes, reggae standards and Edie Brickell’s “What I Am” (no joke!) all jazzed-out.
Which, in case you were wondering, is a pretty sweet thing. The guitarists meshed really well, and things never got too cluttered, as Ranglin and Smith played on alternate cuts (Hunter and the drummers served as a kind of house band for the Jamaican six-stringers).
Which is cool, because it gave each guitarist room to breathe, and to tear shit up. Hunter rips it on Tosh’s “One Foundation,” reimagined as a burning funk tune, and Ranglin shreds like a rasta Django Reinhardt on Hunter’s “Mestre Tata” (previously heard on 2003’s Right Now Move). Smith shines on the smooth dub “I’ve Got The Handle” (originally recorded by the Heptones in ’67), and on his own “Fade Away.”
But Earth Tones, the album, shines most of all. Too many guitars can be a drag, but these three master musicians made it work, and made it cook. When’s the second volume due?