The Rippingtons

Curves Ahead

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For a number of years, Rippingtons mastermind Russ Freeman had a hard time approaching the inspirational pop jazz perfection of 1989's Tourist in Paradise, but this fifth group album came close with its hummable compositions, eclectic blend of tempor, emphasis on acoustic piano and guitar, and wondrous musicianship. As a composer, Freeman has a distinctive knack for conjuring up exotic images ("Nature of the Beast" takes the listener to Africa, while "Aspen" travels high up into ski country) and for remembering past gems in his lush, unrivaled catalog. As such, the lovely "Morning Song" recalls "Oceansong," and "Aspen" looks back to "She Likes to Watch." Yet there are always enough new twists to keep listeners on their toes -- for the first time, Freeman uses a horn section (featuring labelmate Nelson Rangell) which lights a fire under "Santa Fe Trail" and the title track. Rangell, who shares sax duties with Jeff Kashiwa and the soulful Kirk Whalum, is also allowed a few peppery flute runs. And no Ripps release would be complete without the marvelously original soundscaping of Steve Reid. Cameos by pianist Mark Portman, trombonist Bruce Fowler, Omar Hakim, and Dave Grusin round out yet another genre classic by Freeman.

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