Monty Alexander with Ernest Ranglin
The last years of the 1950s saw dramatic changes in Jamaica. The island was rapidly moving towards independence, and in response a new sound was bubbling up from the studios of Kingston. The sound that became Jamaica’s first homegrown popular music grew out of a blending of island folk music, American R&B and the imagination of the island’s inventive jazz musicians. Two instrumentalists who were in the studios creating the ska sound were Monty Alexander and Ernest Ranglin. Both men played on scores of sessions for Studio One, Treasure Isle and Island Records. Monty Alexander moved to the US where he became a highly influential pianist (including a stint with Frank Sinatra). Ernest Ranglin went on to be a highly regarded jazz guitarist.
Rocksteady finds the now elder statesmen of jazz getting together to revisit the music of their youth. The tunes on Rocksteady are a tribute to some of the early greats of Jamaican music. Alexander and Ranglin offer interpretations of songs originally recorded by The Skatalites, The Congos, Desmond Dekker, Augustus Pablo, Burning Spear and Toots and The Maytals. In most cases, Alexander or Ranglin played on the original sessions. The one exception is Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song.”
The Rocksteady sessions were done as live in the studio takes to emulate the feel of their early Studio One days. While they are revisiting their past, Alexander and Ranglin are not attempting to relive it. The arrangements heard here are relaxed, light jazz renditions of the well-worn melodies. The light and bouncy arrangements invoke the feel of a sunny poolside afternoon. The instrumentalists pull off some fine soloing while not disturbing the sunbathers. If you’re looking for a collection of ska standards to get your blood pumping, this isn’t the place. If you want a nice collection of jazzy rocksteady instrumentals to chill out with, you can’t go wrong.