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Ernest Ranglin and Avila
Bless Up

Avila Street Records

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.

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