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Lee Ritenour: Rhythm Sessions

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Fusion, lest we forget, spawned both new age and smooth jazz. Guitarist Lee Ritenour’s Rhythm Sessions is proof. Alongside its ample fusion credentials (including two dozen accomplished players, among them Marcus Miller and Stanley Clarke), it’s loaded with the glossy production and vampy lite-funk one expects to hear while on hold. Despite this, Rhythm Sessions is a remarkably winning album.

Melody and harmony are its strengths, thanks in large part to Ritenour’s ace guitar playing. This is apparent on his riffy tune “July,” during which electric bassist Melvin Davis and drummer Sonny Emory work out a canned groove; Ritenour’s liquid, imaginative electric solo makes short work of the piece. He also adds acoustic sweetness to “Rose Pedals” and “Children’s Song #1” (featuring piano work by its composer, Chick Corea), and brings life to the repetitive South African funk of “The Village,” pairing his high-end lead with George Duke’s Moog synthesizer. Much praise also goes to Ritenour’s choices on keys: synth programmer Ariel Mann shines throughout the album, and Dave Grusin and Larry Goldings illuminate everything they touch, particularly Grusin’s sensitive piano fills on “Rose Pedals” and Goldings’ mean blues organ on “LA by Bike.”

Weaker are the too-smooth drum rhythms, which belie the album’s title. It’s inconceivable, for example, that such a technician as Vinnie Colaiuta should be made to sound like a drum machine on “Maybe Tomorrow.” There’s a real hypnotic effect to them, though; even “Maybe Tomorrow” is an irresistible head-bobber. And if Will Kennedy’s easy waltz helps make the Kurt Elling-sung rendition of Nick Drake’s “River Man” this gorgeous, who’s to complain?

Originally Published