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Lee Ritenour: Fresh Over Time

Lee Ritenour, gazing back on more than 30 albums and 30 years of music, could have compiled a greatest-hits compilation to honor the anniversary. Instead, the contemporary-jazz guitarist invited numerous musicians to Enterprise Studios in Burbank, Calif., and over the course of two days in March 2004 they helped him create new versions of some of his best music from the past four decades. The result is a 13-song CD called OverTime (I.E./Peak). Since the sessions were filmed before an intimate crowd of about 75 people, there’s also an OverTime DVD (Eagle Rock), filled with three-plus hours of material, including 19 songs and interviews with Ritenour and friends.

Both the CD and DVD look at Ritenour’s music in four phases: his early days as a first-call session player and solo artist, his acoustic jazz, his Brazilian music and the contemporary jazz that many fans today know him by.

“Several of the musicians played with me in the ’70s, so it’s really covering a period of time,” says Ritenour, 53. “But it’s looking forward as well because of the way the music takes on a fresh attitude.” For example, Ritenour’s new version of Wes Montgomery’s “Ocean Ave.” swings a lot harder than the original and adds saxophone by longtime associate Ernie Watts. “Papa Was a Rolling Stone,” originally on A Twist of Motown, still has Chris Botti’s trumpet but substitutes Lisa Fischer’s singing for that of Kenya Hathaway and Grady Harrell. And the most notable update is “Captain Fingers,” the 1977 song (and album) that became Ritenour’s nickname: While the original version feels dated today, the update sounds like jazz-rock fusion for the new millennium.

In addition to Watts, Dave Grusin, Patrice Rushen, Anthony Jackson, Harvey Mason, Ernie Watts and Steve Foreman-all regulars with Ritenour in the studio and at the Baked Potato in L.A.-stopped by for the session. So did Eric Marienthal, Dave Carpenter, Alex Acuna, Melvin Davis, Barnaby Finch and Oscar Seaton. Ritenour says he recruited Harrell and Hathaway to add new blood to the session. Hathaway, the daughter of R&B legend Donny Hathaway and sister of vocalist Lalah Hathaway, even contributed an original song, “Possibilities.” “I knew I wanted some new faces,” says Ritenour, who also invited drummer Oscar Seaton to the recording. “I wanted to balance out the familiar faces people have seen me connected with over the years.”

Although Ritenour is focused on a world tour for much of 2005, he plans to sign other artists to his resurrected I.E. label and work on a new solo album to be released in 2006. He also plans to record a new classical album for Decca with Dave Grusin as a follow-up to their 2000 release Two Worlds.

For now, though, Ritenour is happy to talk about the wonders of modern audio and video, which he says transforms OverTime into listening and visual nirvana. “Perhaps the most important aspect of the advantages we have today technologically is that people can experience music in a whole different way,” he says. “For instance, when Dave Grusin is playing the Miles Davis-Bill Evans tune ‘Blue in Green,’ the piano is miked from several different aspects. If you’re lucky enough to hear the project in 5.1 surround sound, you feel like you’re sitting in the middle of the piano.”

The OverTime DVD utilized a six-camera shoot, and the CD has a crystal-clear sound since the live recording was captured in a studio. “We were circled together in an unplugged, intimate situation,” Ritenour says. “We’re really playing to each other as if we were in my house, jamming in the living room. You really get this interaction between the musicians and the audience is part of it. It’s wonderful to capture jazz like this. Even if the viewer is not a hardcore jazz fan, they still completely get it because they see this incredible interaction and dialogue going on visually.”

Originally Published