When a musical group with two decades of success releases album number eighteen, you have to figure that the guys making up the group are pretty much on top of their game. That would be an accurate description of the Rippingtons, and the group’s new album, Modern Art, is now out on the Peak Records label.
One of the most consistently popular contemporary jazz ensembles around, the Rippingtons came together when founder Russ Freeman formed the group over twenty years ago. Although some of the participants have changed through the years — former members include Dave Koz and David Benoit — guitarist/keyboardist Freeman has remained a constant as the heart and soul of the band.
The current incarnation of the Rippingtons includes drummer Dave Karasony, bassist Rico Belled, Bill Heller on keyboards and accordion, and Jeff Kashiwa on sax and EWI. Smooth jazz trumpet star Rick Braun also shows up on one track, “Love Story,” one of many on the album that reflect the group’s strong roots in the genre.
But even though smooth jazz fans will find a lot to like here, I found myself more drawn to the pieces that allowed the talented instrumentalists to stretch their muscles in other directions. Freeman either wrote or co-wrote almost all the songs on the album, and in addition to being a prolific composer he’s an astonishingly gifted guitarist and keyboardist. His talent is on full display with “Sweet Lullaby,” a soothingly soft and melodic tune that I enjoyed very much.
For something with a little more fire, you could do worse than “One Step Closer,” which features Kashiwa blowing some fine honkin’ sax. I also found a lot to like about “Paris Groove” and “Pastels On Canvas,” both hinting at continental influences. Good stuff.
A nice collection of mostly contemporary jazz, performed by a vibrantly talented group of musicians. Recommended. (Follow the link at the bottom for the album; sound clips available here.)