The Rippingtons

Moonlighting

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Released in 1986, this album not only stands as a genre-defining primer on what has become known as smooth jazz, but it also helped launch the careers of various artists whose music has been crucial to the genre's vitality. In addition to composer/guitarist/producer Russ Freeman and the Ripps, there's David Benoit (playing a gorgeous piano melody on "Mirage"), keyboardist Gregg Karukas, bassist Jimmy Johnson (who scored hits with Flim & the BBs), saxmen Brandon Fields and Dave Koz (whose floating Electronic Wind Instrument melody guides the silky "Dreams"), and some soprano-wielding guy named Kenny G. One of the G-man's least cloying -- and indeed, most engaging -- performances can be heard on the lilting, Calypso-influenced "She Likes to Watch." (One of Freeman's best tunes, it continues to get heavy airplay.) The opening, six-minute title track -- a guitar-driven, light funk tune that weaves percussionist Steve Reid's nature soundscaping and exotic sound effects with a hypnotic synth melody -- epitomizes the kind of smooth texturing for which the Rippingtons became famous. While the band's personnel has evolved, the best tunes on the Ripps' more recent recordings still feature Freeman jamming on guitars and Reid brewing up just the right amount of aggression and subtlety with his toys. The all-star personnel alone makes this a must-hear all these years later. The fact that it still holds up melodically, rhythmically, and production-wise makes it one of smooth jazz's most important and enjoyable recordings.

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