A couple of years ago, when Tommy LiPuma assumed direction of the GRP label, he released a number of their familiar stable of players, including Eric Marienthal. “I was dropped like a hot potato. But I was in good company; John Patitucci, Dave Weckl, a lot of guys were right there with me,” says Marienthal.
He’s still in good company. Only this time it’s with the newly launched label, i. e. music, a joint venture with Verve Records headed up by Lee Ritenour, Mark Wexler, plus Michael and Lori Fagien. Ritenour, in particular, made an impact on Marienthal’s approach to his new release Easy Street. “Lee made me aware of how important it is to have a recording that’s fresh and isn’t trying to chase any other record…I know it’s a common feeling when you listen to a lot of NAC type radio stations and things seem homogenized. And for myself, it’s nice to hear something different. So that’s what we were going for,” he says.
Marienthal considered naming the new disc Half & Half, since it’s sort of “half jazz and half R&B.” His fans will still recognize the horn man’s smooth sax lines favoring upbeat melodies and supple grooves. Such sounds are also familiar hallmarks of others in on the project, including John Beasley, Rick Braun, Russell Ferrante, Don Grusin, Jeff Lorber and Vesta.
Unlike his prior recordings, which employed a lot of studio production, Easy Street is predominantly a live recording, save for the vocal tracks.
“To me, it’s more difficult,” says Marienthal. “It’s hard not to be nervous to think you better play good right now. When you overdub solos you have the luxury of playing it over till it’s right. But a lot of the time it lacks the edge, and of course the interplay between the musicians.”