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Claire Ritter: Waltzing The Splendor

Dan McClenaghan By

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Pianist/composer Claire Ritter's expansive artistic vision comes into sharp focus on her ninth CD release, Waltzing the Splendor.

It's music that won't slip into a neat category, though "classical jazz"—if you must apply a label—might be as good a fit as you'll find for her highly melodic approach. And that sharp focus is laid out on a very wide screen, employing everything from delicate classical beauty to Monkish angles to rollicking stride grooves.

Here, as on her previous release, the excellent Greener Than Blue (Zoning Records, 2004), Ritter is all about short, succinct statements, finely-crafted. Of the eighteen tunes here, only one clocks in at more than four minutes, and the rest have their say in less than three minutes—no long rambles, no wasted notes, with every new idea coming at you quickly, every tight, engaging melody buffed up like a little jewel.

Ritter does go after more major themes, though, via suites. On Greener than Blue It was "Opus 21: World Poems for Peace." On Waltzing the Splendor, Ritter wrote the "Four Jazz Serenades for Georgia O'Keefe," inspired by O'Keefe's 1919 painting, "Orange and Red Streak," that graces the cover of the CD. On this centerpiece, she uses a violin and cello for some of the most classical sounding music on the disc. On the rest of the set, Ritter goes back and forth from solo piano to duos with vibraphonist Jon Metzger.

"Punch" starts the show, featuring Ritter in a percussive mode behind Metzer's vibes—a brief, bouncy, vibrant piece that gives way to Ritter's solo take on Harold Arlen's "Over the Rainbow," played straight, gorgeously. It gives way to "Integrity," a jaunty piano/vibes duet that leads into another Ritter original, "Echo Meadow," a pensive and pretty solo tune that sounds like an undiscovered classic from the Great American Songbook.

"Punch," "Integrity," "Hot Pepper" and "Suppose" all pay tribute to Thelonious Monk, with the Monkish angles and quirks and off-kilter strides; and "Funky Feet" does indeed invoke images of an exuberant dance. A bonus of sorts, "In Between," which was the title track of Ritter's debut CD (Zoning Records, 1988), is a heartfelt Dave Holland bass solo, leading into the buoyant drift of the lovely title tune.

Waltzing the Splendor, with its brief, beautifully melodic, distinctive tunes and it's mix of vibes/piano, solo piano and piano with strings, is an unusual—and unusually fine—offering from an undersung jazz master.

Track Listing: Punch; Over the Rainbow; Integrity; Echo Meadow; Valsa; Four Jazz Serenades for Georgia O'Keefe, Opus 23: No.1--OrangeRedYellowGold; No.2--Painter's Serenade; No.3--Strings in the Desert; No. 4--Waltzing the Splendor; Telepathy; Hot Pepper; Suppose; Funky Feet; Punch; In Between; Waltzing the Splendor; Hot Pepper.

Personnel: Claire Ritter: piano; Jon Metzger: vibraphone; Jane Hart Brendle: violin; Ashima Scripp: cello; Dave Holland: bass(bonus track #16).

Title: Waltzing The Splendor | Year Released: 2007 | Record Label: Zoning Records

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