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May 28, 2012 5:50 pm
Guitarist Lee Ritenour has been crafting cruise-control music in LA’s recording studios for more than 30 years – born in 1952, he made his session debut for The Mamas & the Papas aged 16; later he would provide gritty rock guitar for the track “Run Like Hell” from Pink Floyd’s album The Wall. And with Sonny Rollins in his credits, he has a solid jazz core.
His own projects tend to be multi-genre and guest-laden, and veer from the exemplary to the lightweight. At this gig, seamless drive-by grooves implied palm-lined boulevards and danger lurking in dark alleys and the fast swing flowed with fluent ease. But there were equally long periods of perfectly executed filler, dominated by soft ballads, fluffy Latin sounds and a waltz.
Ritenour’s long-time collaborator, keyboardist Dave Grusin has, we were told, composed more than 100 film themes and an equal number for TV. Great behind titles and action, they were not so good played straight and standing alone. And even the presentation implied that it was the film stars that made the music valuable.
Introducing a decidedly cosy “Theme from On Golden Pond”, Ritenour rattled off the lead actors as though he was selling the song. “Henry Fonda, Jane Fonda, Shirley MacLaine,” he intoned. “No,” growled composer Grusin, whose solo piano feature this was, “it was Katharine Hepburn.” It was a moment of passion that took some time to resurface.
The acoustic first set opened with a tribute to Brazilian composer Antonio Carlos Jobim – a samba lope, a light-fingered waltz and the insubstantial ballad duet “Amparo”. The Wes Montgomery tribute “Wes Bound” followed. Packed with detail and intrigue it delivered on-the-money funk and a hard-edged pulse. An Oliver Nelson blues was hardly classic, and a turgid film theme needed the rousing fast-swinging finale.
The second set, with Ritenour now on electric guitar, followed a similar pattern of high-flying grooves brought low by smooth emotions then rescued by raw edge and a return to their genre-defining best. Ritenour’s agile lines curled into a bent-note wail, Grusin’s textures gained malevolence and the superb sound-perfect drummer Sonny Emory capped all with a time-bending display of powerful rolls, twirled sticks and an unerring sense of climax.
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