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Lee Ritenour: Pickin’ Party

Lee Ritenour goes guitar-crazy on the star-studded

Left to right are Ritenour with the judges, finalists and grand prize winner: judge Larry Baione (Chair of the Berklee guitar department), finalist Johan Jorgensen (Denmark), finalist Manuel Bastian (Germany), finalist David B

Lee Ritenour has been playing guitar for 50 years, and to celebrate he decided to make an album that, to paraphrase the liner notes to 6 String Theory (Concord), is a Lee Ritenour record but isn’t a Lee Ritenour record. Instead of shining the spotlight solely on himself, the versatile veteran musician and composer invited nearly 20 other string-benders to contribute, many A-list names in their own right. Joining these guitar gods were other musicians who haven’t yet achieved that level of fame but deserve to, among them 16-year-old Canadian classical guitar prodigy Shon Boublil, who won a Yamaha-sponsored competition that landed him a Berklee scholarship and a solo piece that wraps up the album. “I started out with a core group: John Scofield, B.B. King, George Benson, Pat Martino and Steve Lukather,” says Ritenour, 58. “Those were the first guys I called. I said, ‘I really need you on this project.’ They all tentatively said yes right off the bat. It’s really not just a Lee Ritenour record but it certainly is my vision and my dream project.”

Among the other guitarists who ultimately signed on were Slash, Mike Stern, Taj Mahal, Joe Bonamassa, Neal Schon (of Journey fame) and Robert Cray. One standout track, King’s “Why I Sing the Blues,” features King, Keb’ Mo’, Jonny Lang and country picker Vince Gill-each taking a guitar solo and vocal turn-while other tracks put Ritenour into smaller-group settings or leave him out of the picture all together. The general concept behind the album, Ritenour explains, was to showcase his lifelong interest in the instrument and its relationship to multiple genres. “I think [Ritenour is] one of the greatest guitar players ever,” says Scofield, who plays on “Lay It Down,” the album’s leadoff track. “His stylistic breadth, that blows me away. There are very few people I know that can play classical guitar and jazz and funk and all that. He’s prodigious-he really can do all this stuff.”

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