I hate to lose my smooth-jazz cred, but I’ve never seen the Rippingtons live. I know, horrors. I mention this because the band has built its reputation on its live shows and is in fact how it was named: “Man, those guys are ripping.” But I have heard all of their CDs, which have left us with many instrumental classics, most revolving around leader Russ Freeman’s tasty guitar licks, especially his classical stylings, best expressed on the new CD with “Costa del Sol” and “Eternity." Rippingtons CDs have always been hit-or-miss, with more hits, but frequently leaving a taste of generic smooth jazz. The Rippingtons live? Great. The Rippingtons on CD? Not so much.
Before the hate mail pours in, let me offer a theory to the Ripps’ staying power, as this new CD marks 20 years of records and even more of playing. Instead of going for the easy hook, Freeman and gang remain true to the spirit of other instrumental bands, such as Spyro Gyra, that explore musical ideas more than hooks, like their fusion and early contemporary jazz brethren. To be sure, the Rippingtons do lean on the smooth side, which they show here with “City of Angels” and “Celebrate,” during which saxophonists Brandon Fields and Kirk Whalum are given a chance to show their considerable skills.
This two-disc CD throws in a treat for all you Rippingtons fans with a DVD consisting of four music videos—“Curves Ahead,” “I’ll Be Around,” “High Roller” and “Tourist in Paradise”—as well as a retrospective on the band including a few, too-short live clips. What do you know? These guys can rip live.