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Lee Ritenour: Overtime


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If it's harder for me, it's the more exciting a challenge.
In his three decades as a solo artist, guitarist Lee Ritenour has covered a lot of territory. While cranking out one excellent album after another as a frontman, he's also found time to sit in as a guest with other artists and even spent a few years as a member of the supergroup, Fourplay. Among those he has recorded or performed with are Maynard Ferguson, David Sanborn, the Brothers Johnson (remember "Strawberry Letter # 23 ?), Djavan, Kenny G, the Mamas and the Papas, Lena Horne and Tony Bennett.

Rit's latest release is a fresh delivery of some his classic material. Overtime, his debut on Peak Records, is a double entendre of musical inspiration. Rit worked overtime composing new arrangements of some of his most popular recordings. The thirteen-song CD, a companion piece to a DVD of the same name, encompasses various styles he has played over time. It was recorded live before an audience of invited guests, with a lineup that includes some of today's finest musicians and vocalists. Among them are Dave Grusin, Ivan Lins, Patrice Rushen, former Fourplay band mate Harvey Mason, Chris Botti, Ernie Watts, Eric Marienthal, Alex Acuna and Kenya Hathaway.

Ritenour took time out from his hectic schedule, which included several interviews and preparation for a Hollywood Bowl concert, to talk about the project. The opening track was composed by one of Rit's inspirations: Wes Montgomery.

All About Jazz: Why "Boss City for the opener?

Lee Ritenour: This project, Overtime, is really a two-fold project. The CD is derived from the DVD, and it was primarily a DVD project initially. We cut so many songs, I didn't use about three or four songs on the DVD. And one of them was "Boss City.

AAJ: You go from a swingin' Wes Montgomery to a mellow Miles [Davis' "Blue in Green is the second track]. Is there an area of jazz that you won't touch?

LR: Well you probably won't hear me playing the Impressions (laughs). In general, I'm fairly adventurous and confident. If it's harder for me, it's the more exciting a challenge.

AAJ: Do you have a favorite style?

LR: I like a lot of different styles. Music on the CD and the DVD is divided into four areas: straight ahead, fusion, Brazilian and contemporary. There's a lot of words thrown around...if I were to throw out one catch phrase, I don't think it would cover my interests.

AAJ: "Sugarloaf Express. A lot of North American jazz players—seems they all do at one time or another—inject that Brazilian experience into their music. How do you connect with Sugarloaf Mountain?

LR: When you go to Rio (de Janeiro), that's almost the first thing you see. It's such an amazing site. When I went there in the early '70s, Ivan Lins, Joao Gilberto, Milton Nascimento, that was just happening then. But there's also a new wave of Brazilian music—lots of new artists coming up. I'm happy about it.

AAJ: How'd you come about selecting Chris Botti for the trumpet (on "Papa Was a Rolling Stone )?

LR: Chris worked with us on a couple of projects before. He played on the A Twist of Motown project and the original [previous cover] of "Papa. We used a lot of contemporary and urban-type guest artists on that one. He's a great melodic player, and, of course, he's a great jazz player.

AAJ: Do I hear a bit of Hendrix toward the end?

LR: (Laughs) That's probably possible. Definitely. My biggest influence was Wes Montgomery, followed closely by Kenny Burrell and Joe Pass. I basically loved any kind of music when there was some great guitar playing. I went to Brazil when I was 20 and worked with some great guitar players. My son is half- Brazilian; his mother is Brazilian. I've worked with a whole bunch of major Brazilian artists. Coming out in late August, the World of Brazil on GRP. It's a collection of my best Brazilian music.

AAJ: Explain "P.A.L.S.

LR: The letters stand for some of the friends playing on that cut—Patrice, Alex, Lee and Steve (Forman). It was a piece I wrote for the DVD and CD. It's a bit of a throwback to the fusion, "Captain Fingers, to show off the bass and my guitar.

AAJ: Way back in the day, "Is It You got some pretty extensive airplay—at least in the markets where I was at the time—but it seemed after a certain period, mainstream radio seemed to totally disregard crossovers from jazz—save for Kenny G and the three or four songs by Hiroshima, Candy Dulfer and Spyro Gyra that everybody plays. What's the atmosphere now with artists such as yourself trying to get more widespread exposure?

LR: Unfortunately, I think it's bad news and good news. The bad news is traditional radio is so corporate, so formatted, it's really simply smooth jazz. And for the traditional jazz, it's mostly college stations. It's one in a million that one sneaks through. Norah Jones broke through in a huge way, but she was also more of across-the-board— had a lot of pop, R&B, folk. She's not really a jazz singer, but it's good that she was able to include some jazz songs on her debut. The instrumental stuff is almost next to impossible. On the other hand, some great things have been happening with satellite radio. Sirius and XM have opened a lot of doors.

AAJ: In your vast collection, do you have a favorite song for listening—or performing?

LR: The funny thing is it was never a song that was a regular song, but it's a big favorite of my fans. It's a flexible song that can go in about any direction: "Rio Funk. It can be funky, progressive, commercial, out, in...whatever we want it to be.

AAJ: What can we expect in 2006?

LR: I'm gonna be working on a new record—a lot of new compositions. You can expect a few twists and turns—will explore some percussion and world music elements. I'm very excited. The Overtime project was a great project to look back and look ahead.

Indeed, Overtime is that and more. Hathaway wrote the one new song, "Possibilities, which she also sings. Botti and Rit engage in a blistering call-and-response at the end of "Papa Was a Rolling Stone. And the other musicians are in a tight groove with the leader, giving the listener a sense of being there. Ritenour began his solo career in 1975 at the age of 23. Now 30 years, more than 30 recordings and some 3,000-plus performances later, he's still cooking. Dubbed early in his career as Captain Fingers, Rit is still the commanding officer of contemporary jazz guitar.

Visit Lee Ritenour on the web.

Selected discography as a leader:

Overtime (Peak, 2005)
Rit's House (Verve, 2002)
Alive in L.A. (GRP, 1997)
Lee Ritenour & His Gentle Thoughts (JVC, 1992)
Wes Bound (GRP, 1992)
Stolen Moments (GRP, 1990)
Festival (GRP, 1988)
Earth Run (GRP, 1986)
"Rit" (Elektra, 1985)
On the Line (GRP, 1983)
Feel the Night (Elektra, 1979)
The Captain's Journey (Elektra, 1978)
Captain Fingers (Epic, 1977)
First Course (Epic, 1976)

Photo Credit
Colour photo: Nobu Sakagami

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