Lee Ritenour made quite a splash four years ago with his A Twist of Jobim CD, in which he pulled together a rotating cast of all-stars to offer a program of contemporary jazz updates of classics from the Antonio Carlos Jobim songbook. He’s used the same formula for his latest offering, A Twist of Marley. The results are, well, interesting. It doesn’t hue as closely to the contemporary jazz format as the Jobim tribute, nor is it that close to reggae. It creates its own middle ground. There’s a definite native African influence on some cuts, such as “Redemption Song,” which features the vocals, bass, and African hand drums of Richard Bona, and “No Woman No Cry,” which features South African guitarist and singer Jonathan Butler. There’s a higher concentration of vocals throughout the program, often leaning towards soul/R&B, by vocalists such as Will Downing (“Is This Love”), Patti Austin (“Could You Be Loved”), and Phil Perry (“Stir It Up”). Maxi Priest returns for a new take on “Waiting in Vain” (this originally appeared as a somewhat out-of-place vocal inclusion on Ritenour’s Wes Montgomery tribute Wes Bound ) as well as “I Shot the Sheriff.”
A read through the who’s-who personnel list gives you some idea what to expect. Michael Brecker offers tasty tenor on “Exodus” and “Redemption Song.” Rick Braun floats his recognizable muted trumpet on a bed of background horns and background vocals on “So Much Trouble.” The fact that so many contributors appear on just one or a few songs indicates just how constantly the landscaping changes throughout the album. The new wildcard here is Jochem van der Saag, who provides much of the keyboards, synthesizers, programming, bass, and vocals throughout the album. While there is plenty of programming here, van der Saag manages to steer clear of formula and cliché most of the time and can claim some of the credit for the new ground that is broken here.
This is one of those CDs that doesn’t impress on first listening, but you will continue to hear new things on subsequent playings. Maybe it’s because much of what’s on this disc is different from what we’re used to hearing from Ritenour and it takes some warming up to. Part of my initial tepid reaction might also have to do with the fact that, admittedly, I am not that familiar with the music of Bob Marley or the reggae genre in general. But Ritenour certainly deserves credit for offering up something new to open our ears and stretch our horizons. (GRP 314 549 787)
Track Listing: (1) Exodus; (2) I Shot the Sheriff; (3) Get Up Stand Up; (4) No Woman No Cry; (5) Is This Love; (6) Redemption Song; (7) Jammin