The Rippingtons Featuring Russ Freeman mark their 30th anniversary this year with True Stories, an album that demonstrates how to update a band’s sound without losing what made it popular in the first place. The Rippingtons started as a supergroup led by guitarist/principal composer Freeman and featuring such contemporary-jazz luminaries as keyboardist David Benoit and saxophonists Kenny G, Dave Koz and Brandon Fields-who returns to the Rippingtons fold for several tracks on True Stories. The group’s 1986 release, Moonlighting, has become one of the classics of the contemporary-jazz genre, and the success of that album inspired Freeman to form a permanent band under the Rippingtons name.
The personnel has changed over the years, but what’s remained constant (aside from the group’s cartoon jazz-cat mascot) is Freeman’s gift for composing stay-in-your-head melodies enhanced by multi-stylistic, multicultural elements. Freeman has of late been adding current electronic rhythms and textures to his work. On True Stories the catchy, dance-floor-friendly “Wild Tales” is built on galloping, percussive electronic funk grooves; while an atmospheric electronic backdrop provides dramatic contrast to Freeman’s rock-tinged guitar leads on the anthemic power ballad “Wonderland.”
Freeman veers further into rock territory as he layers fiery lines over driving machine-gun rhythms on “Kings Road,” and he displays his lyrical acoustic side on the seductive ballad “Flamenco Beach” and the aptly titled “Dreamcatcher.” Familiar yet fresh, True Stories charmingly caps the Rippingtons’ first 30 years-and bodes well for the next.