Ernest Ranglin and friends celebrate outstanding musical career at the Barbican

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Generations of musicians and music lovers from across the globe filled the hall at the Barbican to witness this concert, convened in honour of one of the 20th century’s most talented and influential musicians. This is guitarist and producer Ernest Ranglin, one of the early proponents of ska and reggae and a formidable jazzer, who, among many other achievements, held an astounding nine-month residency at Ronnie Scott’s in the 1970s.

At 84, Ranglin is still playing strong and full of boundless energy, as he shared the stage with afrobeat pioneer Tony Allen, Senegalese multi-instrumentalist Cheikh Lô, bassist Ira Coleman, British saxophonist Soweto Kinch and latin jazz pianist Alex Wilson. In seeming defiance of the xenophobia which has swept the country in recent weeks, the hall was alive with high spirits and a feeling of togetherness, emanating from the stage and the audience. The music itself reflected this joyfulness, the programme comprising colourful ska and reggae standards, Ranglin originals plus Cheikh Lô’s beautiful songs, infused with memorable solo contributions.

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Ranglin showed the audience that his chops are still very much intact, as he stretched out on some of his most well-known tunes such as ‘Surfin’’ and ‘Below The Bassline’. His solos were full of surprise turns and bold harmonic substitutions, built from catchy, lyrical phrases that contrast with blinding technical runs.

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During the gig – reported to be Ranglin’s last – it was particularly touching to see the sense of camaraderie between these master musicians. Ranglin glowed with enthusiasm as he danced around the stage and wandered up to his fellow players to share private musical moments with them. It felt as if the audience were witnessing a casual jam between reunited friends, which is not far from the truth: Each performer has a personal connection with Ranglin, whether it be through previous collaborative projects or artistic influence. If this indeed was Ranglin’s last performance – and let’s pray it wasn’t – then it made for a fitting celebration of his remarkable career, one spanning seven decades. It’s hard to imagine what music would be like without his artistry

Marlowe Heywood-Thornes

– Photos by Roger Thomas