Several smooth jazz artists have taken to revisiting their past for a new take. Brian Culbertson comes immediately to mind with his star-studded album, Another Long Night Out.
The father of smooth jazz, otherwise known as “Captain Fingers,” has come out with his own updated song collection. Grammy-winning guitarist Lee Ritenour kicked off an extended run at Seattle’s Jazz Alley last night just in time to share his new release, A Twist Of Rit, out since this past Friday. Seattle fans enjoyed Ritenour’s first run of Twist live onstage with his longtime musician friends, keyboardist Dave Grusin, drummer Sonny Emory, and bassist Melvin Lee Davis.
While the trial run wasn’t without its clams, the band nevertheless enjoyed the first night out. Ritenour seemed proud to showcase what he and his all-star recording team did on Twist with some favorites from past albums and some new tracks. The new album’s looser, free-flowing style lent well to the band’s Tuesday night dress rehearsal, providing the audience with many surprises in the form of spontaneous improvisations in the solos and interactions.
Ritenour, Grusin, Emory, and Davis play through Sunday at Jazz Alley in the first of several dates on a tour to support A Twist Of Rit. Whoever shows up to these Jazz Alley dates gets to purchase the new, signed, album before everyone else.
The new album on Concord Records is loaded with reason enough to buy now. Ritenour asked many of his famous musician friends on board the nostalgia train to try and make new memories. They include Grusin and Davis, of course, as well as other big jazz fusion names: keyboardists John Beasley, Patrice Rushen, percussionists Paulinho Da Costa, Dave Weckl, Chris Coleman, Ronald Bruner Jr., bassist Tom Kennedy, saxophonists Ernie Watts, Bob Sheppard, and flugelhornist Rashawn Ross. Ritenour also invited musicians new to his landscape: Japanese pianist Makoto Ozone, and guitarists Wah Wah Watson, David T. Walker, and Michael Thompson.
“People like Ernie, Patrice, Dave, and John Beasley, who worked closely on [my album] Wes Bound – along with Melvin Davis and percussionist Paulinho Da Costa, go back with me to the very beginning,” Ritenour said in a press release promoting his new album. “Ernie had been on so many of my projects. And, of course, I couldn’t do this without Dave Grusin, who is my best buddy, and who has been involved in almost all of my recordings. All of these people are very close friends of mine. We’ve had this musical mafia for 20, 30, 40 years.”
Along with the known names in music, Ritenour has the great pleasure of introducing newcomer Tony Pusztai on his new record. Pusztai is a Hungarian classical guitarist who won Ritenour’s 2014 Six String Theory Competition. As a part of Pusztai’s grand prize, the guitarist played with Ritenour in a duo on “Waltz For Carmen,” originally from Ritenour’s 1990, Billboard jazz chart topper, Stolen Moments.
Three of the 12 songs on this new album have never been done before. Ritenour and his touring band previewed the moving ballad “Pearl” right off the bat last night at Jazz Alley. Written for Ritenour’s mom, the ballad was a huge hit with fans in the audience. The guitarist poured his heart and soul into the lovely, almost tactile melody that played without a boring note, thanks to Grusin’s interesting bridgework.
The re-covers of Ritenour’s past songs also blast any notions of being stuck there. He saw to that. “When I first proposed this record to Concord, I didn’t want it to be perceived as a ‘best of’ rehash of my old tunes,” Ritenour explained, also in the release. “I love to write new material. So there is new material on the record. But I wanted to take a look at my earlier tunes – not necessarily the major radio hits – but in general, I wanted to take material that could have a fresh look today, that we could ‘twist,’ or flip. This is the first record where all of the tunes are mine. It was really fun to look back at my catalog, which stretches back 40 years, and pick certain tunes to take a fresh start.”
Ritenour utilized modern technology to lay the tracks down. But he also went old school by encouraging the musicians to play together, like they would onstage, and see what came of that.
Besides this new album with A Twist, Concord Records plans to release a five-LP vinyl box set with classic records from Ritenour’s repertoire. Festival, Portrait, Color Rit, and Wes Bound are among the gems in the set.