At the age of ten, Nashville born musician Russ Freemen picked up his first guitar and has been entertaining the world ever since. He conceived of an early musical philosophy after the demise of the Beatles - any group he started would never break-up. A heady proposition, especially if you’ve ever been involved in a group for any length of time.
So when Freemen set out to form his contemporary jazz unit, The Rippingtons he opted to achieved his lofty ‘eternal band’ concept by establishing a flexible musical ideal rather than a core group of musicians; evolving through personnel changes - a form of musical osmosis - drawing on fresh talent to energize each new project. After 20 years and 16 albums to his credit, who can argue with his strategy for success?
And now fans can experience the fruits of his 20 year musical journey with the release of the two-disc CD/DVD set “The Rippingtons 20th Anniversary” on PEAK/Concord Records.
This CD features 10 new Rippingtons tunes plus a bonus 5:54 minute trip down memory lane - a compilation of popular songs past, performed by the original musicians.
“The Rippingtons 20th Anniversary” CD features past and present Rippingtons alumni and guest stars which include: Dave Koz, Brian McKnight, Patti Austin, Jeffery Osborne, Kirk Whalum, Brandon Fields, Tony Morales, Gregg Karukas, Paul Taylor, Eric Marienthal, Jeff Kashiwa, Steve Reid, Jimmy Johnson, and Jerry Hey.
The CD is a delight for fans of contemporary smooth jazz, combining elements of Caribbean, Latin, Native American, and other indigenous World music, with a strong emphasis on catchy well developed melodies.
At times Russ Freemen’s flowing guitar style smacks of vintage Carlos Santana.
Throughout Freemen’s career he has been bestowed numerous accolades, including a Lifetime Achievement Award in the category of Best Band as well as Producer from the National Smooth Jazz Awards – and a Grammy Award nominee.
On a personal note, dating as far back as my grade school years I’ve been a longtime jazz aficionado. I was intrigued by the mystique surrounding many of the players of the day - musicians outside the fringe. Performing in a gritty smoke-filled coffee house inhabited by skinny beatniks in black turtle neck sweaters reciting poetry while some cat riffs on a sax in the shadows. I knew the winner in nearly every category of the Annual Playboy Jazz POLL, and considered Dave Brubeck’s classic “Take Five” my favorite tune.
Sometime after puberty and the psychedelic 60s’, prog/rock became my genre of choice. Jazz/fusion was a sub-category in the prog/rock lexicon and I soon discovered the German fusion group Passport, fronted by Klaus Doldinger. I bought up every Passport import I could lay my hands on.
Now I must admit to being unfamiliar with the music of The Rippingtons until this album passed my desk. As occasionally happens, they simply slipped under my radar. But the moment I put the CD in the player it was like discovering an old friend. The musical similarity between Russ Freemen’s The Rippingtons and the later period Passport albums brought back fond memories. So I made an instant connection.
The second disc in the collection is a DVD retrospective of the groups 20 year career with interviews of past and current members, as well as an extended concert performance.
As reported in the press release, the CD will be supported by a national tour in August and September, segments of which will be sponsored by Cadillac Smooth Jazz TV, with guest star appearances along the way.
“The Rippingtons 20th Anniversary” CD/DVD collection is highly recommended and a must have for fans of adventurous contemporary jazz.
Reviewed by Joseph Shingler on September 19th, 2006