Takin’ it easy

This album might just as well have been named “Modern Approaches to Old Ideas,” and that’s meant in the best possible way.

Ernest Ranglin has been a professional performer for five decades, earning a well-deserved reputation as a strong guitar player who has mastered the ability to execute his ideas. But what makes Ranglin stand out on this particular album
isn’t the execution so much, which is virtually flawless. It’s those ideas. It’s nice to see a CD title that so accurately encapsulates what the album is about. It is equally nice to see a CD that was envisioned as a whole rather than as a random compilation of great songs that have little or nothing to do with one another.

Ranglin’s sound is smooth and clear, but not in the so-called “smooth jazz” or “easy listening” style. It’s much more challenging than that, although the subtlety can easily fool the untrained ear into believing that what’s being heard is far simpler than the truth of the matter. Ranglin plays like a confident and mature musician who no longer has anything to prove and can feel free to just enjoy his music — and the freedom to actually play what he wants. Occasionally, he’ll throw in a blindingly fast run or riff just to let you know he’s as good as they say, but then he resumes just taking his time.

Ranglin’s band deserves equal praise. In particular, drummer Tony Allen and Chris Franck on percussion provide a smorgasbord of driving rhythms that draw on everything from traditional jazz to Afro-pop, reggae and funk.

Keith A. Owens is a Detroit-based freelance writer and musician. E-mail him at [email protected].

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