Lee Ritenour's Rhythm Sessions is, in a roundabout way, a companion album to 2010's Six String Theory. For that record, he sought out a slew of guitar greats to celebrate their joint love for the instrument. Here, Ritenour assembles another top-flight cast for a set of tunes that range from fusion to pop, from contemporary jazz to post-bop and more. "The Village" places the guitarist with George Duke, Stanley Clarke, drummer Dave Weckl, and percussionist Munyungo Jackson. The fusion groove is nocturnal, slippery, even bluesy. Kurt Elling joins Dave Grusin, Nathan East, and Will Kennedy for an elegant reading of Nick Drake's "River Man." Ritenour's revisioning of Herbie Hancock's "Fat Albert Rotunda" showcases just how savvy he is at adapting a jazz-funk classic for the 21st century without sacrificing its vigor. The band -- Patrice Rushen on acoustic piano with Debron Johnson on Rhodes, Marcus Miller and Melvin Lee Davis on basses, Rob Bacon on rhythm guitar, and Oscar Seaton on drums -- rock it up a bit while keeping the ensemble and rhythmic interplay fluid, yet firmly in the pocket. Ritenour surprises by including two tunes by the European piano trio E.S.T.: "800 Streets by Feet" and "Spam-Boo-Limbo." In both cases, he uses the harmonic elasticity of the originals to dig inside their hardwired, interlocking grooves. He reveals them as rife for contemporary jazz as well as post-bop. Chick Corea stars on his own shimmering "Children's Song," with Ritenour playing classical guitar augmented by drummer Peter Erskine and Chuck Bergdorfer on bass. This set is not all cover tunes, however; Ritenour contributes three fine compositions -- "July" (a breezy little funk tune with excellent bass work by Melvin Davis), "Rose Pedals" (a crossover classical jazz piece), and "Dolphins Don't Dance" (a limber, Latin-tinged modern jazz tune with Larry Goldings on B-3). The set closer is a reading of Grusin's elegant, R&B-flavored "Punta del Soul," featuring the three young winners of his Six String Theory Guitar & Rhythm Section Competition. Rhythm Sessions underscores Ritenour's ability to place himself in any jazz ensemble -- he's almost chameleon-like -- without sacrificing his unique voice or ability as a soloist. This utterly unique recording in the contemporary jazz genre is a fine showcase for his skills as a bandleader.
Rhythm Sessions Review
by Thom Jurek