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WHERE JAMAICA AND AFRICA MIX; RANGLIN FINDS `LOST RIDDIM' WITH MUSICIANS OF SENEGAL.

Byline: Fred Shuster Daily News Music Writer

To cut his latest album, pioneering Jamaican jazz guitarist Ernest Ranglin was drawn to Senegal.

It's a country Ranglin had visited once before in 1976 as part of Jimmy Cliff's band.

In the meantime, although he'd traveled the world and studied various musical forms, Ranglin yearned to return to Africa to record with local musicians.

During that first visit two decades ago, the guitarist met an aspiring singer named Baaba Maal, now an international Afro-pop star and Ranglin's labelmate.

The two collaborated on ``In Search of the Lost Riddim,'' recently released by Palm Pictures, Island Records founder Chris Blackwell's new label. Ranglin's latest effort - his third album in as many years - blends the percussive sounds of West Africa with Caribbean and pop influences.

``I wanted to align African culture with what we have in the West,'' Ranglin explained. ``We've lost our roots. I tried to get as close as I could to the source and then introduce what I learned to this side of the world.''

Ranglin helped shape the course of Jamaican pop music. Inspired by the great jazz guitarist Charlie Christian, Ranglin worked in Kingston's hotel bands of the '50s. These big bands taught him to orchestrate and arrange music, and the constant touring introduced him to musicians of various styles.

Often credited as inventor of reggae's ka-chicka rhythm sound, Ranglin played with members of the Skatalites before becoming musical director of Duke Reid's influential Treasure Isle label in 1965. During the next five years, his choppy rhythms helped lead to the development of rock-steady and reggae out of ska, which was short for skavoovee, a popular catch-phrase at the time.

Ranglin, awarded the Jamaican Order of Distinction in 1973, played on cuts by Bob Marley, Prince Buster, Lee Perry and Millie Small, for whom he arranged the worldwide smash ``My Boy Lollipop.''

The guitarist says he and other session hands had no inkling they were making pop history.

``We had no idea to tell you the truth,'' Ranglin, 66, said the other day. ``We were just doing what comes naturally. We hoped for the best but didn't know it would come out as great as it did.''

After cutting a series of hard-to-find solo albums in the '60s, '70s and early '80s, Ranglin emerged in 1996 with the well-received ``Below the Bassline'' (Island Jamaica), a collection of original instrumental grooves combined with jazzy covers of reggae classics by Augustus Pablo, Toots & the Maytals and Burning Spear.

A lyrical and inventive soloist, Ranglin sounds at times like a Caribbean version of funk-jazz guitarist Phil Upchurch or a far less mainstream George Benson.

Last year, Ranglin released ``Memories of Barber Mack'' (Island Jamaica), titled for a legendary local saxophonist and consisting of 10 Ranglin originals along with interpretations of a couple of reggae classics.

As for the making of ``In Search of the Lost Riddim,'' Ranglin recalls arriving in Senegal's capital city Dakar and having to wait for the sessions to slowly come together.

``It took some time for things to happen,'' said the guitarist, who has homes in Florida and Jamaica. ``But I worked with some fantastic musicians, and the studios are as modern as anywhere.''

Like many reggae aficionados raised on the real thing, Ranglin is discouraged by dancehall and other types of '90s Jamaican pop in which drummers are replaced by machines and the famous rock-steady pulse of reggae is reduced to a keyboard squeal.

``I don't believe in (electronic music) because nothing beats live music played by people,'' he said. ``That's where you discover a person's natural talent and rhythm. You can't play a drum machine and make it sound natural. I can see using a keyboard for the sound of strings. It's difficult to get a string section in most countries.

``But I don't believe in the rest. I need to hear natural instruments. What happened to drums, bass, saxophone and guitar? Things at home are going too far.''

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PHOTO Guitarist Ernest Ranglin taps African, Caribbean and pop sounds on ``In Search of the Lost Riddim.''
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Title Annotation:L.A. Life
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Aug 21, 1998
Words:682
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