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Claire Ritter: Castles in the Air

These companion CDs reveal the artistry, vision and talents of composer-pianist-educator Claire Ritter. Drawing from studies at Queens College with the late jazz luminary Mary Lou Williams and postgrad work with pianist/composer Ran Blake at Boston’s New England Conservatory, the Charlotte, N.C., native’s latest recordings straddle the line between fetching jazz improvisations and placid new-music expressions.

Ritter’s Castles in the Air is a swanky project supported by two grants. Her solid writing, understated keyboard style and seamless interaction with side musicians on 12 sonorous tracks (including “Opus 17: New Southern Symphonic Suite for Modern Dance”) and two Monk tunes, provide for a novel yet relaxed listen. Ritter interacts equitably in varied settings with Stan Strickland (flute, bass clarinet, kalimba), Takaaki Masuko (percussion), Christine van Arsdale (harp, voice), Johannes Ammon (violin), Andrew Blickenderfer (acoustic bass) and guest Steve Swallow (electric bass). Pleasureful nuggets abound, especially Strickland’s sensitive, streaming flute improvisations on “Song in a Canyon” and “River of Joy,” and Masuko’s tasty percussive splashes on six tracks that spur Ritter’s adventurous side. The only disappointment is the brevity of the album.

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