55 minutes of island tree-swaying sounds
Below the Bassline is a successfully smooth integration of traditional reggae and jazz: two music forms that may not immediately spring to mind when contemplating the flawless mixture of music styles. However, the collective featured in this album — and Ranglin (a reggae and ska rhythm innovator) is a chief among them — plays 55 minutes of island tree-swaying, soul-backed precision. Ira Coleman’s bass playing is not the focus of this album, even though the title seems to suggest so. Nor does the focus of this album fall upon the popular funk and fusion (and yes, even disco) drummer Idris Muhammad. In fact, there is only one brief drum solo by Muhammad on Below the Bassline, and it is the first thing you hear. Muhammad opens up “Congo Man Chant” with a snare-laden solo whose rhythm quickly involves Ranglin and Coleman, who collaborate to play eight bars of a rapid but laid-back bassline. Monty Alexander jumps in with the piano and brings Ernest along with him as they determine what ends up being the refrain for a moving piano solo sandwiched between two adept Ranglin solos. There are two ska rhythm selections on this album, “Ball of Fire,” on which Roland Alphonso plays saxophone, and “Bourbon Street Skank,” which features some of Ranglin’s most dexterous playing (also heard on “Nana’s Chalk Pipe”). The title track is immediately identifiable as reggae, with its organ stabs on the down side of the beat, Muhammad’s gentle but consistent treatment of the hi-hats, Ranglin’s lyrical playing on the guitar, and the overall slow, relaxed tempo and feel of the tune. It is an accurate capsule of Below the Bassline, another testament to the skill of the legendary Ernest Ranglin and the other musicians featured here.