If travel is a broadening experience for the average Joe, it must be positively a revelation for the restless artist. Such is the case for Lee Ritenour, a musician who abandoned the comfort zone of cranking out innocuous jams for the far more risky territory of fusing world beat with contemporary jazz.
In 2005, the guitarist performed in a series of concerts in Johannesburg and Cape Town, South Africa. The trip left such an impression upon him that for Smoke n' Mirrors he invited a host of musicians from South Africa, Cameroon, Brazil, Columbia, Peru and India. He added a host of prominent seasoned pros to the eclectic mix, including Dave Grusin, John Patitucci, Patrice Rushen and Richard Bona. In search of different sounds, Ritenour also added nine percussionists and played twelve different guitars on the album.
"The concept for the album came from a lot of different sources, all of which coalesced with my trip to South Africa," Ritenour says. The result is a lively blending of what Ritenour dubs "world flavor," and it should be well-received by listeners who demand more from music than reheated riffs and vapid reworkings of familiar tunes.
That extra "flavor" is what takes the reinterpreting of Patrice Rushen's "Forget Me Nots" and Bill Withers' "Lovely Day" a notch above the humdrum. Both of these songs are staples of classic R&B radio, but not with a South African vocalist (Zamajobe) providing the lead vocals. Rushen herself provides the backing vocals to "Forget Me Nots," also adding a shimmering electric piano and organ solo.
The problem for someone like Lee Ritenour is that unless listeners have kept up, they may be operating on an outdated presumption of the type of music he makes. A song like "Capetown" or "Waters Edge" is far removed Ritenour's days as a founding member of Fourplayand while the sound may remain familiar, Ritenour is obviously still growing and evolving as a musician.
Is he still channeling his inner Wes Montgomery? Sure, as he aptly illustrates on Freddie Hubbard's "Povo," but so what? At this point in his career, Ritenour knows precisely what he can and can't get away with. In any case, Smoke n' Mirrors is a vigorous performance by an artist who's still pushing himself and his listeners to try something bold and new, instead of tried and true.
Smoke n' Mirrors; Capetown; Southwest Passage; Waters Edge; Spellbinder;
Memeza; Povo; Lovely Day; Township; Forget Me Nots; Stone Cool; Motherland; 4 1/2 Storms.
Lee Ritenour: acoustic and electric guitars, bass, synth bass, keyboards and programming; Melvin Davis: 6-string electric bass; Richard Bona: electric bass, shaker, bass fills; Vinnie Colaiuta: drums; Sheila E.: Korg wave drum, Alex Acuna: bongos, congas, percussion; Dave Grusin: acoustic piano; John Patitucci:acoustic bass; Paulinho Da Costa: percussion; Daniel Jobim: keyboards; Danilo Caymmi: flutes; Brian Bromberg: acoustic bass; Satnam Ramgotra: tablas; Erik Pilani Paliani: acoustic and electric guitars; Wesley Ritenour: drums; Tlale Makhene: percussion; Alberto Lopez: wood percussion; Patrice Rushen: Fender Rhodes piano; Oscar Seaton: drums; Steve Tavaliogne: soprano saxophone, EWI, alto flute; Abraham Laboriel: electric bass; Mea Noite: percussion; Daniel Jobin: vocals, background vocals; Joyce Zamajobe: vocals, background vocals; Erik Pilani Paliani: vocals, background vocals; Patrice Rushen: vocals, background vocals; Tita Lima: vocals, background vocals,
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