Curt Ramm is the horn guy. He’s the guy producers call when they need a tasty solo or an arrangement for a whole horn sections. He’s done sessions with everyone from Chic to Radiohead. He’s also one of the guys who fills out the E Street Band’s horn section and is one of Little Steven’s Disciples of Soul.
Rogue Island was born from pandemic and inspired by a Dub instrumental project Ramm and producer Ray Gennari were doing for reggae artist Clatta Bumboo. Curt and Ray wanted to keep busy when virus shut down studios and concert halls. Rogue Island is Curt’s way to project a positive vibration into an unsettled time, keep in practice and have some fun.
I love the horns on the record. Every song has gorgeous horn charts and beautiful soloing on trumpet and trombone. Curt layers these tasty horn parts over cheerful Caribbean rhythms. “Dancehall Dreams” let’s Curt’s horns dance with a feisty ska beat. “Ripped” throws some dub effects on an easy rock steady vibe (with accordion flourishes provided by fellow E Streeter, Charlie Giodano). Rogue Island reminds me of ’90s ska bands like New Youk Ska Jazz Ensemble and the Articles. The ska boom was a great time for young jazz players because they had an audience ready to dig their licks as long as they could dance.
As much I love Curt’s arrangements and soloing, Rogue Island has some pandemic induced flaws that detract from the whole. Because Curt and Ray couldn’t get a band into the studio, they had to improvise. Ray went into his archive and repurposed rhythm tracks from Aston Barrett Jr. and Brady Robinson sessions. It shows. The drums and bass too often sound annoyingly monotonous, like they turned on the “island beat” setting on a Casio keyboard and played over it. It’s frustrating because we have these fantastic horn arrangements and solo with a woefully underdeveloped foundation. A great rhythm section like Sly and Robbie or Chris Franz and Tina Weymouth are genius at providing a worthy foundation that accentuates what else is going on in the song. I suspect Rogue Island would have been a much better record with a real band backing Curt up, but… you know, pandemic.