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Reggae giant Ernest Ranglin plays rare Seattle gig

If ever there was a “once in a blue moon” concert, it was Saturday night’s show at Nectar by Jamaican guitar legend Ernest Ranglin. The club billed the night as Ranglin’s first Seattle appearance, but backstage, the guitarist said he thought he may have played here before — perhaps with a jazz band, perhaps as a reggae artist, or maybe with a world music band.

If, at 83, Ranglin’s memory is a bit hazy, that can be forgiven considering his lengthy, multi-phased career. In an informal interview, he talked about his first records in the fifties, and his own influences, which included jazz great Charlie Christian.

But when Ranglin came onstage, his musical memory was flawless. Over the course of a 90-minute set with Avila, he put on a clinic that touched on jazz, ska and, most certainly, reggae guitar.

Though he’s modest, Ranglin was one of the inventors of reggae and played with Bob Marley and Jimmy Cliff. Saturday he skipped their repertoire, and stuck to reggae classics like “Satta Masa Ghana.”

On that song, Ranglin kept his leads down low, as if they were part of the rhythm section, pairing with bassist Angeline Saris (from cover band Zepparella). Ranglin’s guitar was never flashy, yet always confident. He drove the rhythm, while Saris doubled him.

The other members of Avila provided an appropriate framework, and the four-piece horn section (a treat in a small club) kept the audience dancing. Trumpet player and musical director Chris Brown was particularly notable because he kept his solos scratchy, which matched Ranglin’s guitar phrasings.

Gigantor, headed by Lynval Golding of the Specials (who now lives in the area), opened. Their set included “My Boy Lollipop,” Ranglin’s first hit back in 1964.

Golding later watched Ranglin onstage, and, like every other guitar player in the room, tried to figure out how the master made it look so easy.

“His playing influenced all ska bands, and certainly ours,” Golding observed.

Ranglin’s staccato guitar always kept the backbeat under his control, but he would break off for jazz riffs that could have come from Wes Montgomery. He didn’t leave the stage until one in the morning.

There was a blue moon overhead.


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