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Monty Alexander – Rass! – featuring Ernest Ranglin, guitar – MPS

Monty Alexander – Rass! – featuring Ernest Ranglin, guitar – MPS 0209737MSW, 36:18 [Distr. by Naxos] ****:

(Monty Alexander – Fender-Rhodes piano; Ernest Ranglin – lead guitar;“Trini” Clarence Wears – second guitar; Jackie Jackson – bass; Sparrow Marlin – drums; Noel Seale – congas; Denzil “Pops” Laing – percussion)

The German jazz record label MPS (Musik Produktion Schwarzwald) was founded in 1968 in Villingen Germany by Hans Georg Brunner-Schwer and quickly gained a reputation on two fronts. Firstly, the recording musicians were treated with style and fairness. Secondly, the  sound recording production values were of the highest quality, with sleeve design and liner notes demonstrably in step with the recordings. The label ceased producing original material in 1983, and after that bounced around to many owners. In January 2014, the label was purchased by Edel AG and they have begun re-issuing the back catalogue under the rubric of MPS Kultur Spiegel. Monty Alexander originally released Rass! in 1974 having completed the recording in his native Jamaica. It’s a gem.

Mix jazz with calypso, reggae and Caribbean rhythms and the result is Rass! Forsaking his usual pianoforte for a Fender-Rhodes electric piano, Alexander teams up with some first rate Jamaican players fronted by lead guitarist Earnest Ranglin, to produce this  slim (36:18 minutes) six-track session.  Starting with the Al Green classic, “Let’s Stay Together,” the band never looses its groove. The opening bars suggest an earthy aesthetic that bristles throughout, as both Alexander and Ranglin show their mastery of the genre. Ranglin’s crackling guitar breaks are formidable. Another Al Green number, “Love And Happiness”, opens with a sparking run from guitarist Ranglin, then the full band picks up on the theme for a calypso beat, where again Ranglin does major damage on his guitar break. Alexander delivers his solo with  a brisk feel that helps to pull the number together.

Anyone who has ever visited the Caribbean will be familiar with the three traditional calypso numbers “Sly Mongoose”, “Yellow Bird” and “Limbo”. Each one shimmers like the sun shining off the blue Caribbean waters and are full of the earthy rhythms of the islands. “Knowing That We Were Meant For Each Other” lets Alexander take full advantage of the upper register of the Fender-Rhodes and Ranglin follows suit with a similar guitar solo driving home his stellar musicianship.

To borrow a quote from the MPS web site: “dats some funky music, mon”.

TrackList: Let’s Stay Together; Sly Mongoose; Love And Happiness; Knowing That We Were Meant For Each Other; Yellow Bird; Limbo

—Pierre Giroux

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