The Rippingtons Featuring Russ Freeman take the listener on a kaleidoscopic excursion on Fountain of Youth, the popular contemporary jazz outfit’s 20th album. Leader and guitarist Freeman is working with a varied sonic palette here, drawing on influences from around the world and layering an array of instruments to create evocative, constantly shifting soundscapes. This project is very much a guitar showcase: Freeman deploys a diverse assortment of axes, including electric and acoustic guitars, pedal steel, ukulele, mandolin and synth guitar, exploring the myriad ways they can combine to create colors and textures.
The stately, dark-tinged “Emerald City” spotlights a sitar-sounding Turkish instrument called the baglama that Freeman bought on a trip to Istanbul. “We Will Live Forever” opens with tribal drums and a plaintive Native American flute sound Freeman creates on synth guitar; later, that instrument evokes an overdriven trumpet à la Pat Metheny.
The Latin-flavored “Rivers of Gold” features a flamenco turn by Freeman, while folksy acoustic guitars and graceful piano flourishes give sparkle to the lighthearted frolic “Waterfalls of Bequia.” The title track opens with a delicate acoustic melody that transforms into a George Harrison-ish soft-rock ballad featuring electric guitars, pedal steel and synth guitar horns. Freeman closes the album with the moody, subdued “Garden of the Gods,” acoustic guitars and horn and harmonica effects driven by electronic rhythms.
Fountain of Youth departs from the band-based sound that has served the Rippingtons well for nearly 30 years. It marks a dynamic new direction, one Freeman will hopefully explore further on recordings to come.