While it may not make a faithless man believe, Judge Bill Gibron says there's a lot of musical moxie present in this genial jazzman's latest offering.
A jazzman, and his pals, testifying.
For nearly three decades, Lee Ritenour has been one of the world's foremost light jazz artists. Mixing a smooth urban vibe with the occasional soul/funk jive, his efforts have attempted to walk the razor-thin tightrope between the avant-garde and the accessible. In 2004, the gifted guitarist decided to call together a collection of colleagues and former band mates, and make an album celebrating music from the process of "making," not marketing. Assembling such luminaries as pianist Dave Grusin; keyboardist Patrice Rushen; talented bass impresarios Anthony Jackson, Melvin Davis, and Dave Carpenter, and drummer Oscar Seaton, the first foundation was set. Then, in collaboration with vocalists, percussionists, and an array of brass and woodwinds maestros, the resulting work, an album called Overtime, became a kind of sonic statement, a chance for a longtime journeyman in the jazz trade to teach a contemporary audience about the joys of jamming and the artistry in improvisation. The CD version of this venture contained a mere portion of what was actually performed. This new DVD release from Eagle Eye Media, a HD presentation recorded live at the Enterprise Studios in Los Angeles, expands the running time and fleshes out the song list. The result is a soothing, comforting journey through cool cat swing with just an occasional hint of R&B bravado.
It has to be said upfront that many purists find artists like Ritenour to be the very antithesis of the jazz ethic. While mining the vast catalog of creativity for their copycat conceits, they bring very little to the genre by way of invention. Sure, the ability to pluck out a saucy solo while listening to impossibly complex chord changes requires skill and creative fire, yet Ritenour and his ilk are often compared to poseurs, pretending to be what their betters—like recognized great Wes Montgomery—were before them. Obviously, if you are one of these dour distinction makers, you'll be steering clear of this project upon hearing the name of the organizer, but others less in tune with the tradition of jazz will probably enjoy this free and breezy performance piece. Ritenour is not out to rewrite the rulebook or change the perception of instrumental music in the eyes of the converted. No, he wants to expand the aural horizons of those who may not be initiated in the free-form facets of the American musical art form and create delicate, detailed tapestries of sound and symbiosis. As his fingers lightly run the frets of his shimmering, glossy guitar, a kind of ambient aura is created, sudden bursts of music mixing with each other to form a solid body of brave, often beautiful, harmonics.
Over the course of the two-and-a-half hours they perform, Ritenour and his gathered group present the following numbers:
• "Party Time"
Some of the songs are Ritenour originals ("Sugarloaf Express," "Night Rhythms"), while Grusin contributes his "Captain Caribe." Ivan Lins, a singer/songwriter, is on hand with three of his Latin flavored numbers offered up. We get some Miles Davis ("Blue in Green") and a taste of Ritenour's previous gig as a player in Sergio Mendez's Brazil '77 while tackling Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Water to Drink." Overall, there is a comforting mood of urban calm, a faraway vision of a city waking up and shaking the sleep from its skyscraper eyes present in every piece. Ritenour enjoys the group ideal and does not dominate the proceedings. He gives Rushen and Grusen ample room to paint with their pianos and the amazing solos from sax players Ernie Watts and Eric Marienthal remind us why individuals like Charlie Parker and John Coltrane are so important to the core concept of jazz. Overall, this is a digital dream machine, a slow and sometimes unsettled collage of creative voices vying to forge a cohesive whole. They manage more often than they fail and even the minor moments (most of the vocals are kind of kitschy, not very accomplished, or aesthetically on par with the accompaniment) soothe the soul with a salve of auditory excellence. Call him an artistic afterthought, but Lee Ritneour is definitely talented and this is powerful, potent stuff. For those outside the realm of real jazz, Overtime will do quite nicely.
As a DVD presentation, Overtime is presented in a 4x3 1.85:1 matte screen format. Basically, this means we have a full-screen faux letterbox offering on our hands. It looks incredible, the direction by Charley Rondazzo flawlessly capturing the communal pride between the musicians as they make magic together. One has to wonder—if this is indeed a high-definition print—whether it would look good on a technically tuned-up set. Surely, without the added bit rate of a HD DVD (even with the concert covering two discs here), the video would look the same—vibrant, but lacking the depth and detail of the newer format. Anyway, the audio compensates for those aggravated by the non-anamorphic elements of the transfer. While a 48KHZ Discreet Stereo mix is available, it is worthless when compared to the 5.1 Dolby Digital track. This spatially impressive, multi-channel affair, loaded with atmosphere and distinct detail, is the real way to listen to this DVD. Switching between the two proves the obvious differences—the stereo is flat and rather formless. The several-speaker version is like sitting in the middle of the band, jamming along with the musicians. It is truly an amazing aural experience.
On the bonus side, the two discs offer nothing of interest. Throughout the show, Ritenour and others add a few choice comments and these interviews can be accessed individually. Aside from such a menu selection option, there are additional features. While a discography would have been nice, it's hard to imagine what kind of content could fill out this package. Jazz is a tough topic to crack in some simple, text-based explanation and all the musicians here could fill a disc with their contributions alone. Perhaps the bare bones conceit is the way to go. It allows for the music to do the talking, keeping any analysis off in the distance, where it probably belongs.
If you like your jazz light, poppy, and more or less eclecticism free, you'll really like Overtime. Lee Ritenour may be a pretender to the tonal throne—at least, according to determined die-hards—but the sounds made here sell his ability more clearly than any critical comparison.
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