Lyle Ritz

How About Uke?

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Admittedly, a jazz ukulele album sounds like a novelty at best and at worst like some kind of mutant perversity -- until one hears Lyle Ritz play the uke, that is. At two different sessions in September of 1957, Ritz, a jazz bassist, went into a Verve studio with bassist Red Mitchell, drummer Gene Estes, and flutist Don Shelton, and laid down 13 sides -- 11 of them canonical jazz and standard tunes that are simply breathtaking for their swing as much as their gentility. Shelton, who appears on half the sides, lays out a sharp line on Duke Ellington's "Don't Get Around Much Anymore" that is answered in counterpoint by Ritz in both chordal and single-string runs. The complex chord voicings on Rodgers & Hart's "Have You Met Miss Jones" offer such color and texture that one can forget that this was written specifically for piano. And Ritz's solos touch on guitarists from Django Reinhardt to Tiny Grimes to Wes Montgomery. Other standouts are Ritz's two originals, "Ritz Cracker," a bop tune, and "Sweet Joan." The versions of "Moonlight in Vermont," "Little Girl Blue," and "I'm Beginning to See the Light" are all revelatory for their wonderfully realized harmonic palette. This is a gorgeous record, one that bears not only encountering, but repeated listening.

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