The very gift that makes a session musician great can also be a curse. Oftentimes expected to be chameleon-like, it's that very act of becoming a credible musical shape-shifter that can sometimes lead to a loss of individuality. Lee Ritenour is a consummate and complete guitarist if ever there was one; his varied discography supporting a seemingly insatiable appetite for anything to do with the six-stringed instrument and all its variations. Often (and, in many cases, unfairly) linked too heavily with a genre that he helped formulate in the mid-to-late 1970s through his own "fusion lite" albums like Captain Fingers (Epic, 1977), to call Ritenour a smooth jazz guitarist would be unfairly exclusionary, as 6 String Theory proves in spades.
Not that there's anything wrong with smooth, but there's none to be found amidst 6 String Theory's multiplicity of styles, all-star guests and a cohesion surprising for an album so eclectic. Instead, Ritenour goes for the throat with some down-and-dirty blues ("Give Me One Reason," featuring guitar slingers/blues beltersRobert Cray and Joe Bonamassa) and mainstream jazz (the incendiary "L.P.," with Ritenour joined by straight-ahead hero Pat Martino and organist Joey DeFrancesco, and a swinging "Moon River," with the equally mislabelled George Benson in full-out bop mode). There's some pedal-to-the-metal guitar pyrotechnics when Steve Lukather, Neal Schon and Slash get together for the high octane shuffle of "'68'"; a classier blues, "Why I Sing the Blues," where elder statesman B.B. King is joined by relative youngsters Keb' Mo', Jonny Lang and Vince Gill, who not only turns in a searing solo, but as impassioned a vocal turn as his partners. And just to prove he still can do it, there's a nod to Jeff Beck on Max Middleton's classic boogie, "Freeway Jam," where Ritenour tears it up with Mike Stern and Japanese guitarist Tomoyasu Hotei, supported by legendary British drummer Simon Phillips.
There are also nods to the acoustic side with guest steel-stringers Joe Robinson and Andy McKee. A guitar competition as well as a CD, 6 String Theory closes with its winner, classical guitarist Shon Boubil, performing two Legnani "Caprices."
The entire set kicks off with Ritenour's funky "Lay It Down," capably sharing the bill with contemporary John Scofield. As well as Ritenour plays here and throughout 6 String Theoryhumbly leaving more than ample room for his guests as he appears, in fact, on only eight of the album's fifteen tracks and never dominatesit highlights the disc's one and only flaw: Ritenour plays undeniably well throughout, but it's the very strength of the voices around him that highlights his own lack of one. It's hard to criticize a player so accomplished and so diverse, but while many of his guests will be remembered for their distinctive musical personalities, it's far more likely that Ritenour's legacy will be as an exceptionally talented chameleon, capable of fitting into any contextnot, by any means, a shabby accomplishment, however, and especially when the result is as thoroughly enjoyable as 6 String Theory.
Lay It Down; Am I Wrong; L.P. (for Les Paul); Give Me One Reason; "68"; In Your Dreams; My One and Only Love; Moon River; Why I Sing the Blues;] Daddy Longlegs; Shape of My Heart; Drifting; Freeway Jam; Fives; Caprice, Op. 20, No. 2 and 7.
Lee Ritenour: guitar (1, 3, 5, 6, 9, 12, 13), nylon string electric guitar (11), arrangement (1-3, 6, 9, 11-13); John Scofield: guitar (1); Harvey Mason: drums (1, 2, 9); Melvin Lee Davis: bass (1, 13); Larry Goldings: organ (1, 5, 14), Fender Rhodes (2, 9), clavinet (2), Wurlitzer (4); Nathan East: bass (2, 9); Keb' Mo': guitar (2, 9), vocals (2, 9), arrangement (2, 9); Taj Mahal: guitar (2), vocals (2); Will Kennedy: drums (3, 8, 11); Pat Martino: guitar (3); Joey DeFrancesco: organ (3, 8); Joe Bonamassa: guitar (4), vocals (4), arrangement (4); Robert Cray: guitar (4), vocals (4); Vinnie Colaiuta: drums (4-6, 14); Tal Wilkenfeld: bass (4-6, 14); Steve Lukather: guitar (5, 6, 11), arrangement (5, 6, 11); Neal Schon: guitar (5, 6); Slash: guitar (5); George Benson: guitar (7, 8), arrangement (7, 8); B.B. King: guitar (9), vocals (9); Vince Gill: guitar (9), vocals (9); Jonny Lang: guitar (9), vocals (9); Joe Robinson: guitar (10), arrangement (10); Andy McKee: steel string acoustic guitar (11), guitar (12), arrangement (12); Paulinho Da Costa: percussion (11, 12); Jimmy Johnson: bass (11, 12); John Beasley: keyboards (11, 12), Fender Rhodes (13); Mike Stern: guitar (13); Simon Phillips: drums (13); Tomoyasu Hotei: guitar (13); Guthrie Govan: guitar (14), arrangement (14); Shon Boublil: guitar (15).