Lyle Ritz

No Frills

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On No Frills, his fourth studio album (the first two coming in the late '50s), Lyle Ritz makes use of both of his instruments for the first time, being a master of the jazz ukulele but also a regarded sessionman on bass. This album marks the move toward the contemporary in technique, recorded in a spare room on a laptop with the bass added in on a separate track. The playing, though, is somewhat remarkable in its one-shot nature -- there were no retakes, no alterations. Just one pass through a series of jazz standards (and a few originals in the same style). Perhaps because of the limitations of the ukulele itself, the sound is somewhat bare. The bass is only used sparingly, and the tempo is kept relatively slow. What makes the album interesting is largely the arrangements used for these standards. Jobim's "Girl from Ipanema" is re-ordered to begin in the middle sections and go back to the opening chord progressions afterward. Monk's "Blue Monk" is transposed to a different key and given a healthy dose of Hawaiian aesthetics, particularly in the chords. Now that jazz ukulele is more widespread than in Ritz' earlier days (as evidenced by the abilities of new players like Jake Shimabukuro and the re-emergence of older hands like Bill Tapia), this album seems almost quaint in a way. The focus is on the arrangement of the song, rather than the virtuosity that can be applied. That may indeed be the hallmark of Lyle Ritz' playing: holding back to respect the song.

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