The Rippingtons: Black Diamond

Another tenth record which promises-and this time delivers-departure is the Rippingtons’ Black Diamond (Windham Hill 01934-11271-2; 52:17). From the wicked flamenco flourish and drama of “Angelfire” (with guests Arturo Sandoval and Pete Escovedo lighting a fire under Russ Freeman) to the classically-wrought, warm “Seven Nights in Rome,” this record takes the previously rutting ensemble in some welcome directions which capitalize on musicianship and band chemistry in all-new ways. There’s not a hint of auto-pilot evident on the shining “Big Sky,” which sets Freeman’s warm, acoustic energy against a bright rock backbeat, or “Deep Powder,” a pulsing, dance-y piece which holds richer, more resonant rhythms than previous efforts. The album’s title refers to the riskier runs that ski venues have to offer. The Rippingtons take considerable risks here, and are rewarded with one of their strongest, most unified efforts in years.